CAMP VERDE – After a lifetime in Southern California, Tom Burris moved to the Verde Valley in 2013.
Retired – but not interested in being inactive – the Sedona resident joined the Verde Valley Archaeology Center. He also joined the Arizona Site Steward program.
An avocational archaeologist if there ever was one, Burris spent his summers in the Mojave Desert with members of the Mojave tribe.
“I became interested in where they lived, in how they lived,” Burris said. “When I moved to Arizona, it started all over again”
Burris is one of about 50 volunteers in the state’s site steward program.
The Arizona Site Steward program is a statewide network of volunteers who are trained and certified by a partnership of the State Historic Preservation Office, Arizona State Parks and the governor’s Archaeology Advisory Commission.
Recently, the Verde Valley Archaeology Center became the program’s Sedona/Verde Valley area regional coordinator. According to VVAC Executive Director Ken Zoll, the region had been without a coordinator for more than a year.
“For a variety of bureaucratic reasons, many sites have not been monitored during that time,” Zoll said. “Part of our mission is to protect and preserve artifacts and sites of the cultures here before us.”
According to Zoll, prospective site stewards could work one or several different sites each year. Rick Ellis, for example, oversees four sites on the south end of the Verde Valley.
Mixed in with his other volunteer duties, Ellis said he tries to visit each site “at least once a month to check for vandalism and signs of pot hunter’s activity.”
Of the four sites he tends to, Ellis said that the 260 Caveats – off SR 260 and Verde Lakes Drive – are the “most challenging of my sites.”
“They sit on the cliff face and the access is dangerous, some places it is a couple of hundred feet down,” Ellis said. “Additionally, I get to interact with and educate visitors from all over the world.”
More sites, less stewards
According to Ellis, the program has “more sites than site stewards.”
Which is correct – more than correct – as Zoll counts about 50 volunteers and “2,500 sites in the Verde Valley.”
Of those sites, Zoll said that 127 are “more easily accessible by the general public.”
“The sites that are five miles off the road aren’t going to be on our list,” Zoll said.
When Burris visits one of his three sites, he photographs the site, looks for what he calls “negative activity” such as graffiti, then he looks at the trail to get an idea of how often the trail is being accessed by the public. Burris will spend from one hour to two hours at a site, he said, which includes time to get to the site from his vehicle. Two if his sites – Wu Ranch and Spirit Hunter – are “about 200 miles” from where he can park his car. The other site – Soldier’s Pass Ruins – a “couple of miles” from where he parks.
It’s a lot of work, Zoll said, and that’s just getting to the site.
“You have to be able to hike,” he said. “And you have to agree not to take non-stewards to the site.”
That’s a matter of protecting the site, Zoll said. Anyone interested in becoming a site steward are certified following the completion of classroom and field training. Training sessions include segments on state and federal antiquity laws, artifact and feature identification, crime scene protection methods, and reporting procedures.
Zoll recently discovered a site in Cornville and a conservancy site “that had evidence of recent digging.”
“This has dramatically shown that the site steward program is an important piece in the effort to protect our cultural heritage,” he said.
Visit https://www.verdevalleyarchaeology.org/sitewatch for more information or to become a site steward.
-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42
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