A bipartisan coalition of Arizona representatives are co-sponsoring a bill that would allow the National Park Service to acquire land surrounding the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.
H.R. 2497 was introduced last month by Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, Paul Gosar, Ed Pastor and Raul Grijalva.
The lands proposed as an addition to the Casa Grande ruins have archaeological significance. One portion of land will add to the original Hohokam village associated with The Great House, one of the largest prehistoric structures ever built in North America.
Several of the land lots are contiguous with existing park boundaries. Another, called the Adamsville site, is about four miles east of Coolidge, Ariz.
Most lots are unassuming patches of desert or farmland. But, hidden beneath the ground is evidence of the Hohokam.
This ancient civilization thrived in the Gila and Salt River basins for more than one thousand years, until about 1450 A.D. They put together a system of irrigation canals and built complex, massive Great Houses, such as the one preserved at Casa Grande.
The site was developed as the nation’s first archaeological preserve in 1892, and became a national monument in 1918.
Bill Doelle is president of Archaeology Southwest, an organization that works with monument staff on preservation efforts. He said the proposal would be the first time the park's boundaries have been expanded.
“It would really round out and give the current monument a much broader context for interpretation,” Doelle said. “And, it would expand the preservation effort.”
Doelle said archaeology continues to have wide appeal with the public. And, expanding the Casa Grande monument will encourage more opportunities to learn about human prehistory.
“We try to emphasize public outreach in what we do, and I think other folks are doing the same,” Doelle said. “...sharing information with the public is a very important part of what I think all archaeologists try to do.”
Archaeologists are particularly excited about the proposal to add the Adamsville site to the monument.
It's about four miles east of the current boundary, and doesn't look like much from the road. Just a few earthen mounds, rising from an otherwise sun-baked desert.
But, they're are part of an ancient Hohokam village. If the expansion measure is approved, the site would be subject to archeological preservation.
Residents of nearby Coolidge are also excited about the proposed expansion. The town of about 12,000 people is heavily dependent on agriculture, particularly cotton.
But, it also has a thriving tourist industry, thanks to the monument.
Mayor Tom Shope sees the effect firsthand. He estimated that the ruins bring about 70,000 people to the town each year. And, they spend money.
“I would say a conservative figure, if you’re looking at just dollars, would be $10,000 a year in sales tax revenue,” Shope said.
He said Coolidge residents have adopted the Casa Grande ruins as part of their own local culture.
“The monument is a source of pride for Coolidge and citizens, no doubt about it," Shope said.
H.R. 2497 is currently being considered by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation.
Arizona Museum of Natural History's site on the origins of the Hohokam