(Update: A ground-breaking ceremony marking the beginning of construction of a visitors’ center at Mesa Grande ruins, 1000 N. Date St., is slated for 10 a.m. Sept. 4.)
The work of prehistoric Hohokam engineers who created canals bringing irrigation water to the Valley will soon be seen at two sites in Mesa.
Park of the Canals, 1710 N. Horne Road, preserves more than 4,000 feet of Hohokam canals and includes a botanical garden and play structures.
City officials recently met with residents who live near Mesa Grande ruins, 1000 N. Date St., to discuss plans to build a visitors' center on the Hohokam platform-mound site previously open for an annual open house, special tours or a college archaeology class. Construction is slated to begin in September and the facility could open in mid-January, officials said.
"This is the ceremonial center of one of the largest villages - it would have had 2,000 people living at one time," Dr. Jerry Howard, curator of anthropology at the Arizona Museum of Natural History, said at the meeting July 31 at the West Mesa Community Development Corp. building, 567 W. 10th St.
"It started as a small mound and grew in stages... We have found roofs of mesquite and saguaro ribs preserved down inside," Dr. Howard said. "This was the center of a village. That village went out in both directions ... (and) governed the large irrigation systems. Some canals went 20 miles to the south down to what is now the Gila River Indian reservation... These were amazing engineers."
The first excavation at the site was in 1887, he said.
Dr. Tom Wilson, director of the Arizona Museum of Natural History, which will operate the facility, explained that in 1450 there were several-dozen platform-mound sites in Arizona.
"Now we have very few left," he said. "What a treasure you have here in Mesa Grande," Dr. Wilson said at the July 31 meeting. "To the neighbors: Thank you for your work in preservation of the site."
Construction should begin in mid-September for the visitors' center, with work done 6 a.m.-8 p.m., and be completed in about 75 calendar days, Dr. Wilson said.
"We hope this is going to be an asset - a cultural gem," he said.
Tickets will be sold from a 500-square-feet visitors' center, he said. Water and restrooms are also planned.
"We really want this as an oasis ... We don't want to make this a colossal, modern thing," Dr. Wilson said.
Once completed, the site will be open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday from Oct. 1-May 15. Cost will be $5 for adults with an additional $4 per person for a tour, Dr. Wilson said.
Mesa City Council on July 9 approved awarding a contract for $658,209.20 with Concord General Contracting, Inc., to construct a visitors' center, outdoor covered staging area and parking. The project is funded by a $54,893 grant from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community; $518,251 in city of Mesa Cultural Impact Fees; and $85,065 from the Arizona Museum of Natural History Foundation and the Arizona Museum of Natural History Guild, according to the July 9 city council agenda.
Thirteen parking places are planned on the site. Several others will be available on 10th Street near the entrance and a pullout area for two buses is planned along North Date, Dan Cleavenger, city of Mesa transportation director, said at the meeting.
"Three hundred people a day, many by bus. Dozens of cars per day - not hundreds," he said.
The facility has been open to the public in March for five of the last six years, but not in 2012 because of the proposed work to be done, Mr. Howard said after the meeting. School tours have also been held at the site, he said. And he teaches a Mesa Community College class at the site for archaeology students, he said.
Dennis Ryan, who was born in Mesa in 1950, recalled after the meeting last week that he attended the open houses at Mesa Grande.
But that was not the first time he had been at the site.
"Glad it's preserved. I remember going to the site on bicycles. We didn't damage it, but we rode around it," he said. "I think it will be great to have it open where we can see it."
Mark and Laurel Stambaugh live in the neighborhood and attended the meeting to learn more about the project.
"I'm basically in favor of it," Mr. Stambaugh said.
Mrs. Stambaugh is concerned about increased traffic.
"Tenth goes straight through to Country Club to Alma School via Brown. There is a lot of traffic already," she said after the meeting.
Mesa resident Vicki Linoff said she attended the meeting because she is interested in historical preservation of any kind.
"I think it's very important to educate the public. I would say 90 percent would not know what it is," she said of area residents not knowing the Hohokam facility exists.
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What is Mesa Grande?
Mesa Grande, an ancient Hohokam temple mound site, was purchased by the city of Mesa in 1985 with the goal of opening it to the public as an educational and recreational facility. Mesa Grande is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also an Arizona 2012 Centennial Legacy Project. The mound, larger in length than a modern football field and 27 feet tall, represents the remains of one of the two largest and most complex ancient Hohokam platform mound communities in the United States. It is a unique and rare cultural resource of unusual interest to the general public and has substantial scientific significance to the archaeological profession. The Hohokam built and used the platform mound between approximately A.D. 1100 and 1450. Western explorers first discovered the site in the mid-19th century. Work that has been conducted at the site represents a rare opportunity to explore the nature and meaning of Hohokam platform mounds.
For more information about the construction project, call city of Mesa Engineering Public Relations at 480-644-3800.
Source: City of Mesa