Neighbors, city officials and media were treated Tuesday to a preview of the ceremonial grand opening of Mesa Grande Cultural Park and its new visitor center.
Unlike many of the state’s historic Native American sites, however, Mesa Grande won’t require families to take a day trip to some out-of-the way place to see one of the two largest ancient Hohokam platform mounds in the U.S.
The park — right in the middle of a typical Mesa neighborhood — is located at 10th and Date streets. It opens to the public Saturday.
District 1 Councilman Dave Richins joined Mayor Scott Smith and Tom Wilson, an administrator the Arizona Museum of Natural History, which runs the site to commemorate the project’s completion
“This has been an idea that has been decades in coming, a dream, really, that we’re finally bringing to fruition,” Wilson told those gathered for the event.
The site was used by local natives between 1100 and 1450 A.D. as a community center marking the convergence of the great Salt River canal system which still follows many of the same paths today that it did then.
“The amazing engineering of the past and the amazing engineering the present ... is the same engineering,” said Richins, who lives about 200 yards from the park.
The original site once covered more than 600 acres and included a village and a ball court, among other features. It served as a cultural and political center for the ancient American people that lived there. It is now about 1 percent of the size at slightly more than six acres.
Richins says unlike some of the noted ancient Native American sites — Walnut Canyon, Montezuma Castle and others — the park is a place that shows some of the everyday-life aspects of the native peoples.
“This is the everyday. This is the work-horse kind of site that made it possible for them to live here,” Richins said. “They ran the canals off of this. This is the basically in some regards an administrative complex.”
The site, discovered in 1856, was on privately owned land that changed hands among three families over time but its most notable owners were probably Jack and Aquanetta Ross. He was a gubernatorial candidate and car dealership owner and she was a Hollywood actress who had a Native American mother.
According to the city, Aquanetta was instrumental in bringing the land into public ownership, which culminated with a city purchase in 1985.
The National Register of Historic Places first listed Mesa Grande on Nov. 21, 1978, and the Saturday opening marks several decades of preservation efforts.
“This was the nerve center of the area and that’s why it’s so significant, that’s why it survived,” Smith said.
Smith said the landscape of the area is what makes it most unique, right in the middle of the third largest city in Arizona.
“It’s a thriving community that was abandoned and then replaced by another thriving community,” Smith said.
“We weren’t the first ones here. We weren’t the first ones to create a vibrant city. We weren’t the first ones to figure out how to use the waters of the salt river, to tame the desert,” he added.
The park includes a 989 square-foot welcoming center and a 1,975 square-foot covered staging area. A pathway with nine stations and encircles the park including taking visitors to the top of the mound.
Entrance to the park is $5 for ages 14 and up and $2 for ages 3 to 13. It is free for children younger than three.
For more information, visit www.mesagrandeculturalpark.org.
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