Pima-Maricopa, cities hope to transform Phoenix park into desert jewell

Phoenix, Arizona (AP) 2-09

The mayors of Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale are forming a partnership with a local Indian tribe to help transform a popular Phoenix park into a desert jewel comparable to New York’s Central Park and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

The goals of the partnership between the cities and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community include promoting Papago Park’s historical and archaeological assets while exploring the grounds for still-uncovered Indian ruins, conserving land within the park, and turning it into a national center for ecotourism.

“When people come to Arizona from the Midwest, there (are) a lot of things they want to do within a limited time,” said Gyan Nyaupane, an Arizona State University professor specializing in nature-based tourism.

“This would provide a chance to explore the nature and culture of Arizona within the city itself,” he said.

The expansive desert park is home to the Phoenix Zoo, the Desert Botanical Garden, fishing lagoons, hiking trails and is even the final resting place of George W.P. Hunt, Arizona’s first governor.

Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale have agreed to invest in a new vision for the park and plan to work with the Salt River tribe and a consultant to formulate a master plan. The tribe is covering more than half of the $576,897 consulting fee.

Work will include developing a Web site for public input, looking at the area’s natural resources and facilities, and studying the land’s cultural and historical ties to ancient times, when Hohokam Indians cultivated the land.

The consultants also will weigh recreational interests against preservation efforts.

Nyaupane said balancing those elements is essential to the plan’s success.

“They should not forget about the natural component of the park,” he said. “They shouldn’t make it another Disneyland or another theme park, while ignoring the history of the area. That would be a mistake.”

Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman said he’s committed to preserving the park’s heritage.

“It’s certainly the cultural aspect of Papago Park that is really what brings us together,” he said. “This asset rivals the amenities seen in Balboa Park in San Diego, Lincoln Park in Chicago. It’s been our failure not to ... honor the value of Papago Park.”

Ricardo Leonard, a Salt River Pima-Maricopa councilman, said his community is pleased to see the cities working together and hopes planning the future of Papago Park provides a chance for Arizonans and the nation to learn more about its past.

The Hohokam Indians farmed land in the Papago area and were the first settlers of central and southern Arizona, dating back to A.D. 1 to 1450, according to the Pueblo Grande Museum.

Salt River members consider the Hohokam Indians their ancestors.

Traces of the Hohokam people still exist in Papago Park. One feature, known as the Hole in the Rock, is a sandstone desert mound with a cave-like opening. It’s considered sacred to the Salt River tribe and is popular among hikers and tourists.

“These are sites that are not just important to the Indian community, Leonard said. “They are important to the state. This history is what ties us together as Arizonans.”