By DANIEL NEWHAUSER
Cronkite News Service
WINSLOW _ Before Homolovi Ruins became a state park, relic hunters with shovels and even backhoes used to tear through the rolling high desert here scrounging for ancient pottery.
A reconstructed dwelling at Homolovi Ruins State Park near Winslow shows how the Anasazi ancestors of the Hopi Tribe lived. The Hopi Tribe is hoping to develop a partnership with Arizona State Parks to keep the facility open despite looming budget cuts for the fiscal year beginning in July. (Cronkite News Service Photo/Daniel Newhauser)
Today, remnants of a 14th century Anasazi village are preserved and in some cases restored so visitors such as Micah Lomaomuaya, a member of the Hopi Tribe, can see how ancestors of the Hopi traded and farmed along the Little Colorado River. But it also serves as a bridge between cultures, he said.
“This is really a good stepping stone for us to use in terms of sharing our culture with the outside world,” said Lomaomuaya, a consulting anthropologist for his tribe. “If this park closed it would really limit our ability to reach and interact with the outside world.”
As the Legislature grapples with a $3 billion budget shortfall for fiscal 2010, Homolovi Ruins, the only state park dedicated to Native American culture, is among facilities that could face closure as Arizona State Parks anticipates budget cuts.
That’s no small worry to Lomaomuaya and others in the Hopi Tribe, whose reservation lies 60 miles north of Homolovi Ruins but whose history is embedded in this auburn expanse that means “place of the little hills” in Hopi.
“It cannot close, in my mind,” Lomaomuaya said. “It needs to be open for everybody.”
Hopi officials are organizing to help the state keep the Homolovi Ruins open, offering to staff the park and to search for alternative sources of funding. The tribe has appropriated $66,000 to launch a parks and recreation program specifically to help promote the ruins.
“It, itself, has been a floundering business opportunity,” said Susan Secakuku, manager of the tribe’s Homolovi Park Project. “We, unfortunately, at Homolovi are kind of at the bottom of the rung regarding resources and visitorship and have therefore been targeted in some sense.”
At an Arizona State Parks Board meeting in February, Homolovi Ruins was among five parks expected to be shuttered because, with only 15,200 guests in 2008, its cost per visitor was among the highest of all parks.
“We were trying at that time to affect the least number of population,” said Jay Ream, assistant director of Arizona State Parks. “Homolovi doesn’t get a lot of visitors.”
After Secakuku asked officials to keep Homolovi Ruins open while the Hopi Tribe looked at options for helping keep the park open, the board rejected a motion to close it and shuttered three other parks that were in need of repairs.
Arizona State Parks Executive Director Ken Travous has said more closures are possible depending on the Legislature’s decisions on the fiscal 2010 budget, as is cutting back on parks’ days of operation. Homolovi Ruins currently is open seven days a week.
With that in mind, Secakuku said her tribe is trying to be prepared.
“We’re now to the point where we’ll be sitting down with the State Parks staff and looking at options and possibilities of how we can assist the basic needs of the park,” Secakuku said.
The tribe will launch its parks and recreation program in January 2010 to help market and better interpret Homolovi Ruins, Secakuku said, adding that the tribe will try to secure grant funding that might be available only to Native Americans.
Ream said he welcomes any help the tribe can provide.
“If we were to go to five days a week, Hopi resource officers could patrol on the days we’re closed,” he said. “Heck, even one day a week could help us out.”
But that may not be enough to save Homolovi Ruins State Park in the long run, said Charles Hammersley, an associate professor in Northern Arizona University’s Parks and Recreation Management Program.
“What makes it valuable is its remoteness and its importance as a cultural site,” he said. “Because of that, it has no nearby population to draw on for its visitation.”
With no recreational activities in the park or nearby, Homolovi Ruins instead attracts people who are passing through. But he noted that the park doesn’t even have a sign directing travelers to its exit from Interstate 40.
“I don’t see any way to overcome their remoteness,” he said. “Regardless of the partnership, they’re still facing the same challenges.”
Both sides say they are considering the possibility of transferring the park to the Hopi Tribe should things come to that.
“In the long term, a case of logic could be made that all the land is the Hopi’s,” Ream said. “For them to take over the park, I think that’s an interesting concept that the board should maybe look at.”
Secakuku said the topic has come up in Hopi Tribal Council meetings, but she said the tribe’s focus for now is simply keeping the park open.
“We’ll continue to move and develop what we started already and see how far we get,” she said.