By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
The ancient Hohokam people settled the land that has come to be known as central Arizona hundreds of years ago. And Peoria is home to the largest known prehistoric Hohokam village on the New River.
Principal Planner Melissa Sigmund said Peoria is putting a spotlight on the archaeological site by constructing an interpretive trail at a city park that is expected to be complete in the coming months.
She said the entire Palo Verde archaeological site is a significant cultural resource that covers about 80 acres in Northwest Peoria. The city owns the 16-acre Palo Verde Park site, near 73rd Drive and Briles Road in the Terramar housing community, which includes both the recreational park and the preserve area.
“The interpretive trail will allow visitors to walk through the site and learn about a variety of topics including the types of artifacts and residential areas that have been found at the site, how archaeologists learn about and preserve the past, and Native American perspectives regarding their past,” Ms. Sigmund said.
The overall cost of the project is $25,000, which includes the interpretive trail and park improvements.
Peoria contracted with Logan Simpson Design, who has worked with a number of the surrounding Native American tribes to prepare an interpretive plan for the culturally sensitive area, which includes: an introduction with park site information, site significance, area and site maps, as well as sign concepts and materials.
The firm is currently working on a drainage improvement project and phase 2 of the implementation of the interpretive plan, to include a loop trail and additional interpretive signs. Ms. Sigmund said the drainage improvements will reduce the impact of storm water on the site by channeling drainage away from the resources, limiting damage from erosion.
In the future, the loop trail could have a spur connecting the larger New River Trail that is planned to extend north and south to the west of this site, providing greater access to Peoria’s larger multi-use trail system, she said.
“Construction on the site is just beginning and I believe it is on schedule to be completed in the next few months in time for folks to enjoy the improvements in the cooler weather,” Ms. Sigmund said.
Archaeological excavations conducted in 1981 and 2010 revealed 15 residential areas containing pit houses, trash mounds, and roasting mounds, as well as a ball court and possible plaza. The site was inhabited by the Hohokam people about 1,000 years ago when residents survived by hunting, gathering and trading goods.
Council member Bridget Binsbacher, who represents the area, said the Palo Verde Preserve is an excellent visible example of Peoria’s broad collection of natural and cultural resources.
“The site provides the opportunity to expand the archaeological community and public’s understanding of those who came before us,” she said. “Improvements to the preserve will ensure the protection of these valuable resources, while also increasing the educational and recreational amenities for Peoria residents and visitors through an interpretive loop trail.”
The completion of the trail will be a journey of land preservation nearly 20 years in the making. It is a journey that included purchase of the site around 1998 and council approval of Historic Preservation Overlay Zoning allowing for the park to be placed on the Peoria Register of Historic Places. It was later placed on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places.
Mayor Cathy Carlat said in a statement safeguarding the archaeological site at Palo Verde is a top responsibility as the city plans for growth. It is an excellent example of the incredible and sensitive history that exists right in residents’ backyards, she said.
“By understanding the prehistoric culture of these lands, the city of Peoria developed an educational, reflective, and recreational asset that honors how the earliest settlers of the Hohokam tribe used these lands, and the remarkable ruins that remain today,” Mayor Carlat said.