The 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service this year is the 110th anniversary of Petrified Forest National Monument, later Petrified Forest National Park. Taking a snapshot of where the park is today has to start with the land base.
In 1906, the new monument was 60,776 acres. By 1916, it had been reduced to 25,626 acres centered on the Rainbow Forest and Crystal Forest deposits. Today, the park’s authorized boundary encloses about 225,000 acres and about 162,000 of those acres are federally owned or managed under lease.
While we welcome the opportunity to protect and make available more archeological and paleontological resources, one of the park’s main challenges is protecting the newly acquired lands and making them available to visitors with current staff.
Since 2007, lands and resources to be managed have increased about 75% and staffing levels have dropped about 20%. The result is that we seek to be as efficient as we can be while recognizing that there are limits to what we can do. An increased reliance on volunteers has helped greatly.
The creation of the Petrified Forest Field Institute by our partners at the Petrified Forest Museum Association is another avenue we have pursued to extend our ability to get visitors into the park to learn its stories. Please check out the impressive calendar of classes they have created in only their second year of operation.
Beyond the expansion challenges, the park’s infrastructure is virtually all historic and in need of repair or rehabilitation. We recently completed a project that restored the stamped concrete floor and re-exposed the skylights in the front room of the Rainbow Forest Museum, built by the CCC in the 1930’s.
Over the next year, we will continue modifications to that building and the exhibits within. We are making the modifications necessary to have an ice cream fountain in the lower level of Painted Desert Inn this summer. The main park road had repairs made to its worst spots and is getting a chip seal this spring. We are in the middle of a multi-year project that will replace the 20+ mile long water line, built in 1937, that supplies Rainbow Forest. The Painted Desert Community Complex has many needs that we continue to chip away at.
Looking to the future, I believe the park is well positioned to address all its challenges. We will continue to add lands and protect new resources – these new critical responsibilities position us well for an increase in operating funds the next time there are funds to distribute.
Increases in visitation in recent years and an increase in revenue from the entrance station give the park more revenue to support visitor services. Our staff has been smart and creative and has tripled the funding we will receive for our cyclic maintenance needs starting next year. We have submitted competitive project requests to continue to rehabilitate our infrastructure.
Over the next three years, we will have project funding to inventory paleontological resources on the newly acquired lands. We continue to be supported by amazing volunteers and great partner organizations like PFMA and the Friends who expand our capacity to fulfill our mission and add a margin of excellence to what we would otherwise be able to do.
Our new contract with Ortega National Parks has brought us a new partner with new ideas and energy and new opportunities in serving the needs of the visiting public. We have been able to reshape our staff enough to start using the park as a virtual classroom through distance learning as well as creating our own video products for use by visitors as well as non-visitors.
The future has never looked brighter for Petrified Forest National Park.