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Securing shuttered Arizona state parks a problem

State parks officials are struggling to figure out how they’re going to keep closed state parks free of vandals and looters.

The first wave of closures forced by state budget cuts is set to begin this week, with the Homolovi Ruins near Winslow and Lyman Lake near St. Johns closing today (Feb. 22).

Parks officials say they will post signs telling visitors about the closures, and a ranger is expected to be on hand to answer questions.

Buy officials still don’t know how to secure the park perimeters and protect their assets.

The parks staff is particularly worried about Homolovi, which was a playground for looters and vandals before the parks system acquired it in 1986.

Dirt roads from a Navajo reservation and nearby ranches run through the 4,000-acre site, which contains the remains of four ancestral Hopi villages and a host of cultural treasures. Officials recall finding looters with backhoes digging up the earth in search of valuable clay pots.

Parks officials must now decide how to block access points while keeping the site accessible to staff and volunteers who will patrol it.

Securing the 1,500-acre Lyman Lake site presents similar challenges, parks officials said.

“No one’s ever done this before,” said Ellen Bilbrey, a parks spokeswoman. “They weren’t designed to be closed.”

Parks staff will take up to 30 days, and almost $200,000, to secure the two sites. But some groups are lobbying parks officials to take additional steps at Homolovi, a major site of research on ancestral Hopi culture in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Archaeologists have documented the beginnings of kachina figures in Hopi spiritual practices during excavations over the past 25 years. They’ve also learned that Hopi ancestors mass-produced adobe bricks using molds as early as the 1200s, a practice previously thought to have been taught to them by the Spanish 300 years later.

E. Charles Adams, a University of Arizona archaeologist who has written a book on the Homolovi Ruins, has asked the parks staff to have police-trained security guards patrol the grounds. He is concerned that vandals will return to the site and steal ancient pots from burial grounds, vandalize the kivas or destroy a series of petroglyphs on the property.

Adams and parks staffers are working with members of the Hopi community in northern Arizona to see if the tribe will financially support security measures at the site. So far, no agreement has been reached.

After Homolovi and Lyman are secured, the parks staff will have to determine how to close up to 11 more parks, at a cost totaling $1.4 million.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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