More than 1,250 visitors from throughout Arizona and the country helped Tonto National Monument celebrate the National Park Service Centennial and Arizona’s Archaeology Month, March 12 and 13, during Tonto’s annual Heritage Days.
The Monument’s full staff was on-hand to ensure a weekend of education and fun for all visitors. However, the weekend wouldn’t have been a full success without the efforts of staff from other Arizona National Park Service units such as Montezuma Castle National Monument and the Southern Arizona Office in Phoenix.
“Partnerships are paramount in the National Park Service,” said Duane Hubbard, Tonto superintendent. “National Park Service units throughout Arizona will be hosting events to commemorate the NPS Centennial, and successful events wouldn’t be possible without the close partnerships between parks. In addition to the great cooperation between the Southern Arizona Office, Montezuma Castle/Tuzigoot National Monuments and Tonto National Monument, we rely on our local agency partnerships with the Tonto National Forest, Gila County, and the Tonto Basin Fire Department to safely conduct large events such as Heritage Days. This year was another example of how those relationships benefit hundreds of people visiting the Tonto Basin.”
The Monument’s local and state partnerships also helped make the event a success. The Payson Chamber of Commerce and Arizona State Parks were a few of the organizations that helped promote Tonto’s Heritage Days. The outreach helped educate and interest locals and snowbirds alike to visit one of the National Park Service’s oldest monuments.
Jason and Alise Puckett, from Mesa and Chandler, Arizona, said they are supporters of the Arizona State Parks and archaeology enthusiasts who use the State Parks newsletter to determine which events throughout Arizona’s Archaeology Month to attend. The mother and son said they haven’t been to the Monument in more than a decade and were in awe of everything from the access to the dwellings and the beauty of the Upper Sonoran Desert.
“I live 60 minutes away,” Jason said. “Every time I come here I ask myself why I don’t come here more often. It’s beautiful.”
The Monument’s annual event is always a free weekend, and the staff works to ensure new performers and demonstrations are added every year. Heritage Days 2016 featured a multitude of ancient technology demonstrations and the Kennedy Johnson San Carlos Warrior Group. The San Carlos dancers are a youth group that perform throughout Arizona at special events.
However, one performer has become synonymous with Heritage Days as frequent visitors have become accustomed to hearing the sound of his flute reverberate throughout the Monument. Robert Wilson Jr. attended the event as a performer for the tenth straight year. Wilson, from San Carlos, Arizona, said he began playing at 9 years old when he was given a Navajo flute.
“I’m 23 years old, so I guess I’ve been playing for 14 years,” Wilson said. “I like playing here on Heritage Days. This year it seemed like there were more people. I enjoy sitting down and having conversations with people as they visit the Monument. I also love how my flute echoes throughout the Monument.”
Libby Schaaf, the Monument’s chief of interpretation, said she felt like the weekend was a success. She said she heard nothing but positive feedback from the visitors, and that, minus a few bumps and scraps, people were able to enjoy the Monument safely. Schaaf also noted that a fee free event and good weather tends to put a smile on most people’s faces.
“The visitors I interacted with had smiles on their faces and nothing but compliments about the Monument and staff,” Hubbard said. “Our staff, and volunteers from NPS units throughout Arizona, came together and successfully hosted another Heritage Days. The Monument staff cares for two ancient cliff dwellings and the surrounding Upper Sonoran Desert that are significant cultural and natural resources, but this weekend proved that the people who staff the Monument are one of our most valuable resources. We have one of the highest visitor satisfaction ratings of any national park unit, but this wouldn’t be possible without their daily dedication and professionalism,”
National Park Service units throughout the country are hosting special events to celebrate the NPS Centennial. Heritage Days, though an annual event, was especially significant this year because it doubled as the Monument’s Centennial celebration. The Monument also has several projects in development as staff celebrates the Centennial and looks toward the future.