By Tammy Gray
Some newly acquired portions of Petrified Forest National Park will open to the public on April 2, according to Park Superintendent Brad Traver.
Much of the new land will not be open to full public access, but it can be accessed by special permit or through guided use.
According to a map provided by Traver, approximately two sections of land just north of Interstate 40 near the western edge of the park will be open by special permit. He previously told the Navajo County Board of Supervisors that park officials are working to obtain right-of-way access that would allow visitors more direct access to the area.
Most of the new land along the eastern edge of the Petrified Forest will be accessible only through guided use. Many of the sections currently owned by the park are not contiguous and form a checkerboard pattern with other land that has not yet been acquired, with the exception of an approximately 16-section area along the central-eastern edge of the park.
A few areas will not be accessible to the public at all at this time. These pieces of land are isolated from the park and are surrounded by privately owned lands. Traver had explained to the board that these lands were currently inaccessible to the public because it would be necessary to cross private land to reach them. A few small areas within the park itself are also currently off limits to the public, but they are not part of the newly acquired lands. These include Newspaper Rock, which was cordoned off many years ago to protect the petroglyphs from vandals, a small portion of the Blue Mesa formation and an area near Rainbow Forest.
The U.S. Congress approved the expansion of Petrified Forest National Park in 2007, but did not authorize any funding for the expansion until 2010. The National Park Service acquired the 20,093-acre Paulsell Ranch, more recently known as the Hatch Ranch, to the east of the park in 2011, and the 4,265-acre McCauley Ranch in 2013. Between the private land acquisitions and transfers of government-owned land, the park has expanded by approximately 45,586 acres.
By Tammy Gray