The National Park Service gets national attention from time to time about its deferred maintenance backlog. Petrified Forest is addressing this issue through a variety of upcoming projects. The park’s deferred maintenance total is approximately $44 million, two thirds of which ($29.3 million) is in its paved roads, according to the most recent data available from September 2017.
The next largest percentage is deferred maintenance in buildings, which is 12% ($5.4 million) of the total. There are also needs for modest new facilities and modernization of existing facilities not categorized as deferred maintenance — like bringing historic structures up to modern building codes and improving accessibility. There are several projects you may see underway this year and next when you visit the park.
If you visit Rainbow Forest this summer and fall, you are very likely to notice the reconstruction that will be taking place on the north portion of the Giant Logs Trail. There are two primary purposes for this work — the trail’s condition and a desire to make as much of it accessible as possible.
The trail is on a slope and where previous construction episodes installed stairs in some places, this project will remove barriers to universal access and create a loop that meets trail accessibility standards. It will widen the trail to allow passing throughout the northern portion and resurface the trail and add stone edge to be consistent with its historic character. The original 1930s stairs, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the southern portion of the trail, will not be removed.
On the other hand, also at Rainbow Forest, the wastewater lagoon system will be rehabilitated and brought up to current permitting standards. It is and always has been a self-contained evaporative system but the liners will be replaced and the whole facility updated before the end of the year. Since this facility is intentionally located out of public view, you may not notice this work even while it’s happening.
At the northern end of the park, at Chinde Point picnic area, the first of four planned phases will convert the existing site to both a small campground and a picnic area. This year’s work will extend electric power and wastewater collection piping from Painted Desert Inn to Chinde Point, about a half a mile along existing roads. When complete, Chinde Point will have 18 campsites, some with full hook-ups and others without, as well as picnic sites. The campsites will be the first public structured campsites in the park since the campground at Rainbow Forest closed in 1953. Because the construction is expected to start soon, the Chinde Point restroom is not expected to open this summer.
For the last few years, park staff has been replacing the water pipeline connecting the north end of the park to the south, providing service to the Rainbow Forest area. Thirteen miles of that pipeline were installed by the CCC in the 1930s and portions of that pipe have served the park for over 80 years. In all, park crews will replace about 10 miles of pipeline which used to break frequently — one recent summer there were 7 major breaks in 7 weeks. Already, having put 8 miles of new pipe into service, breaks have been virtually eliminated. You may see evidence of the crew’s work from the park road where the path of the pipeline is near.
Design is underway this year for one of the biggest projects at Petrified Forest since the 1960s — a rehabilitation of 13 miles of the main park road, valued at around $10 million. Work is expected to occur in 2019, mostly at the southern end of the park where road conditions are the worst. When complete,the condition of the main park road should be significantly improved and the culverts underneath it should last many more decades.
Major rehabilitation of the main park headquarters, the Painted Desert Community Complex National Landmark District, has been requested and could soon be scheduled for the 2020s. All in all, Petrified Forest, although representing a minuscule portion of the overall agency deferred maintenance figure, is trying to do its part to address that backlog.