The closure of 14 acres of Lake Havasu State Park to preserve possible Native American archeological sites is an effort to pay penance for previous sins but it will diminish the visitor experience at the busiest boat launch area on the lake.
It’s really a poor trade off, especially considering that the area now fenced off in the park has previously been used for camping, building material storage and overflow parking.
If there are significant archeological sites or evidence of ancient material cultures, the state and tribes should work quickly to identify them and, depending upon what is found, then either take appropriate preservation efforts or reopen the park area.
The newly fenced area is a direct reaction to accusations made last year that State Parks may have destroyed tribal antiquities during construction in the park. It led to the departure of then Director Sue Black.
The closure and fencing of 14 acres may mitigate further damage. The question is: Then what?
It’s a common question when dealing with historic preservation and a big part of the question deals with significance. It’s easily answered in places where early natives built large buildings or left behind noteworthy material artifacts.
That’s not the case with the early peoples of the Colorado River. Instead of man-made items, the cultural remains often consist of re-purposing natural materials. Piled stones, for example, can be either a telltale sign of early habitation or the result of a flash flood.
If the question becomes one of trying to prove that every pile of stones is not a cultural antiquity, it’s a long process.
There are a couple of clear exceptions to the difficult determination of cultural versus natural antiquities. Petroglyphs and mazes are remarkable testament to humans’ early presence in this area. They deserve protection and should be a priority of the state.
The rest — such as the 14 acres of parkland now fenced off — need a firm timeliness for resolution. The historical preservation office acts as the caretaker of that process. It does involve Indian tribes but it should involve them much more deeply.
What, as an example, would be wrong with inviting Colorado River Indian Tribes, the Chemehuevis and others to assess the park sites for a six-month period, offering identification of cultural resources and explanations of the significance.
Native Americans should take a leadership role in these projects with the full support of the state.
If it’s important, preserve it. If it’s three rocks in a pile that is of no consequence, ignore it.
It’s a process that should apply to Lake Havasu State Parks, other state parks and in fact all public lands. Don’t keep facilities such as busy state parks closed indefinitely unless there is a clear reason.
— Today’s News-Herald