By Nick Worth
Several programs and events are on the 2014 schedule at Petrified Forest National Park, according to Deputy Chief of Interpretation Sarah Herve.
“One thing that’s pretty exciting is our Friends of the Petrified Forest group is getting established,” said Herve. “We’ve been trying to develop a Friends group at the park. It’s a non-profit group for people who want to help Petrified Forest National Park.”
Herve said the Friends group is preparing to apply for their 501(c) 3 status, which, once granted, will allow them to lobby, accept donations and engage in fundraising.
“They’ll be a real entity then, and can go out and have a booth set up at different functions,” said Herve.
She described the Friends as “a group of people, some local and others from the surrounding area and other states, who care about the Petrified Forest and are interested in helping with programs.”
Herve said members of the Friends group also do volunteer work in the park.
“There are Friends oriented events, like service work on the newly acquired expansion lands,” she noted.
A recent project by the group involved the establishment of a new trail from the Blue Forest to Blue Mesa.
“There are so many benefits to being a Friend,” said Herve, noting that the group is “just getting off the ground.”
For more information on joining the Friends group, contact Jeanne Swarthout at Northland Pioneer College at (928) 587-8738. The group is open to anyone.
“We’re also in the process of developing new wayside signs,” said Herve. The roadside interpretive signs will be installed throughout the park by this summer.
“We’re also exploring different options as to how we can offer access to the expansion lands to the public,” she said. “There will definitely be opportunities for visitors to explore the expansion lands east of Blue Mesa.”
Herve said there would be no roads built into the more than 4,000 acres of newly acquired lands, but “we’ve discussed different ways for people to enjoy those lands.”
During the months of January and February, Park rangers will lead some of the popular “off the beaten path” hikes. For more details, call the park at (928) 524-6228 or go online to www.nps.gov/pefo.
Some special programs in celebration of Archeology Month are being planned for March. Herve said the schedule is still under development and interested persons should check back in February for a schedule of events.
Some of the events include special hikes and cultural demonstrators, as well as a special exhibit at Painted Desert Inn.
Another new development at the park is the opening of a new trail from the Painted Desert visitor’s center to Tawa Point. The trail was put in last summer by the Youth Conservation Corps and will be open for hiking soon, said Herve.
“We’re also recruiting for our Artist in Residence program right now,” said Herve. Past artists in residence have represented all the arts.
“We get composers, photographers, artists, poets, conceptual artists and videographers,” said Herve. “Artists come for two weeks and stay in the cabins across from Painted Desert Inn.”
The criteria calls for the artists to abide by two main stipulations.
“They have to be willing to donate one piece of artwork from their work at the park and we also request the artist do some sort of public interaction,” said Herve. She said the piece of artwork, of whatever type, would be displayed in the park museum. The public interaction can take place at the park or in local communities.
The deadline for applications for the Artist in Residence Program is Feb. 15, and the applications can be found on the park’s website.
Rainbow Forest Museum is the site of another exciting display, new for 2014.
“We had some researchers here recently who revealed we likely had pterosaurs in the park area,” said Herve. She explained pterosaurs (“Winged Lizards”) were flying reptiles.
“We were able to get some casts of pterosaurs that would be similar to the type that flew in Petrified Forest during the Late Triassic period and have one mounted in the Rainbow Forest Museum,” she continued. “We don’t have a complete skeleton, but we have found some significant parts of a skeleton that we were able to identify as a pterosaur.”
Finally, Herve stressed the fact that Petrified Forest National Park is “always looking for volunteers.”
Volunteers can work as little as one day per week and can receive mileage reimbursement when driving from local communities.
“It’s a great way for us to connect with the community and a valuable thing for all of us,” Herve said.
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By Nick Worth