John Welch, Director, Landscape and Site Preservation Program
Jaye Smith, Volunteer, Landscape and Site Preservation Program
(February 22, 2022)—The Gillespie Narrows Preserve, located in the north section of the Great Bend of the Gila region, has been on Archaeology Southwest’s radar since Bill Doelle’s early visits there more than 30 years ago. The richness of the site, including thousands of petroglyph elements that have been recorded and analyzed by Preservation Archaeologist Aaron Wright and Tribal collaborators, supports the continuing need to preserve this important part of the Lower Gila cultural landscape (see Archaeology Southwest Magazine 34-1).
In 2018, Archaeology Southwest was presented with the opportunity to acquire 40 acres known as the Gully Parcel. Funding came as a result of the Bureau of Land Management’s purchase of Archaeology Southwest’s Quail Point Preserve, as well as other donor-provided resources. In addition, the Smith Family Trust funded an endowment for the Gillespie Narrows Preserve to provide ongoing annual resources for its protection and upkeep. The Gillespie Narrows Preserve is a long-standing target of vandalism, and the need to maintain and protect the site and its cultural attributes is acute and constant.
In 2020, Archaeology Southwest was presented with the opportunity to purchase 40 acres adjacent to the south end of the site. Collaboration with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community enabled the acquisition. As a result, 80 total acres of the Gillespie Narrows site are now owned, protected, and preserved by Archaeology Southwest.
As the Arizona Site Stewards monitoring the site have recorded, vandalism at Gillespie Narrows Preserve presents a constant problem. The gate erected in 2018 at the main access point was mowed down not long after it had been installed; dumps of trash and cinder blocks (most recently, debris from a bathroom remodel) litter the area; and, more seriously, the petroglyph panels are continually desecrated. These are just a few of the issues facing John and the Landscape and Site Preservation Program.
Answers on how to prevent these issues in the future were not easy to come by. John conducted numerous discussions with the Site Stewards, Tribal collaborators, and other stakeholders on how to best protect the Preserve and how to reduce the amount of vandalism being inflicted upon the site.
A team of Archaeology Southwest staff, Arizona Site Stewards, and other concerned volunteers have come together to address the escalating needs of the site, most recently in early February 2022. Thirteen participants—aka the Gillespie Dream Team—came out for the Gillespie Narrows Preserve Day of Service, which produced amazing results. The larger trash pile of bathroom-remodel debris—along with the other cement blocks and many bags of trash, including abandoned camp trash—was hauled away with the help of Eric Wilson, who tends to his apiary site on adjoining State Trust Land. Our team collected hundreds of shell cartridges and bullet casings, along with scores of fragments and remnants of shooting targets.
Now there is a new cable stretched across the main access point to make vehicle entry more difficult. “No Trespassing” signs have been posted at all four common ATV and off-roader access points.
Will these fixes reduce or even eliminate the ongoing vandalism? Only time will tell. There is a plan in place for even stronger and more restricted access measures, if necessary. We can only hope that those visiting this beautiful part of the Lower Gila with the historic Gillespie Bridge, the migrating bird riparian area, and the stunning cliffs of the Gillespie Narrows will respect the efforts we have made toward the continuing protection of the Gillespie Narrows Preserve.
Ongoing protection and preservation for the Gillespie Narrows Preserve is funded in part through an endowment initiated by the Smith Living Trust, in memory of William T. Lawrence.
For more information on how you can donate to Archaeology Southwest’s Landscape and Site Preservation Program and help preserve and protect heritage places, please contact Linda Pierce by email or by telephone at (520) 849-6477.