Arizona Closes State Parks, And Fears Of Looting Rise With five state parks closed because of money problems, community groups and former park employees are working to protect the sites from looters. A particular concern is Homolovi Ruins State Park, where fragile Hopi archaeological sites were pillaged in the 1970s.
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Hopi Ruins At Risk After Ariz. Closes State Parks

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Hopi Ruins At Risk After Ariz. Closes State Parks

Hopi Ruins At Risk After Ariz. Closes State Parks

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

And now, we turn to Arizona, a state facing one of the biggest budget shortfalls in its history. It's closing state parks to cut costs. Five out of 30 sites are already closed. Many of the parks are home to fragile archeological areas, and according to Arizona Public Radio's Gillian Ferris Kohl, residents are stepping in to protect them from looters.

GILLIAN FERRIS KOHL: On a clear, calm day like this one, Homolovi State Park has one of the best views in northern Arizona. To the north are the red-rock mesas of the Hopi Nation, to the west, the Little Colorado River and snowcapped San Francisco Peaks.

SUSAN SECAKUKU: (unintelligible) the Hopi call it and with snow on top of the mountains. And certainly today you can see snow on top of the mountains.

FERRIS KOHL: Susan Secakuku is a former archaeologist at Homolovi and a member of the Hopi tribe. She says it's hard to believe visitors are no longer allowed to see this stunning view from inside the park. They're also not allowed to see the archaeological treasures that are found there.

SECAKUKU: There's a lot of beautiful pottery, there are burial plots. We as a Hopi tribe are very concerned as to the protection of the place, first and foremost, and that's kind of the scary part right now.

FERRIS KOHL: So, volunteers and non-profit groups are coming to the rescue. The Arizona Historical Society is paying to keep an historic mansion in Flagstaff open temporarily. And the city of Camp Verde is doing the same with an historic fort. Even individuals are getting ready to pitch in at some of the state's shuttered parks.

KAREN BERGGREN: The state of Arizona has very active volunteers. You know, when your money is swept and you have nothing to pay people with, that makes it a little difficult to keep things open.

FERRIS KOHL: Karen Berggren has been the manager at Homolovi since the day it opened 23 years ago. When she's laid off from her job, Berggren will become an on-site volunteer, continuing to keep watch over the park - just without a paycheck.

BERGGREN: What we find is that the historic parks, the educational parks, the rural parks, they just don't produce enough the revenues. They don't have something that attracts people every weekend like the fishing areas do. But they're treasures. You know, we don't want to lose those treasures.

FERRIS KOHL: Homolovi stands to lose a lot if it remains closed. It's home to more than 500 ancestral Hopi sites, and for centuries pot hunters have ravaged the area, searching for ancient relics to sell on the black market. The worst of it was during the 1970s, about a decade before Homolovi became a state park.

ROBERT BRUENIG: It was being essentially mined, like, looted on a daily basis. They were hitting it with backhoes.

FERRIS KOHL: That's Robert Bruenig, director of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff.

BRUENIG: Our concern is that we're going to go right back to the Wild West days of the '70s that we saw. That's not what the state of Arizona ought to be doing with its heritage.

FERRIS KOHL: For NPR News, I'm Gillian Ferris Kohl.

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