Back in 2004, Congress passed a measure to more than double the size of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, but it never happened because the government couldn't come up with the scratch to pay for the surrounding land. Now the ranchers who own those valuable tracts have grown tired of waiting, and they've put their land up for sale to the highest bidder, giving buyers the chance to build subdivisions and other developments on unique natural habitat.
One of the most critical parcels for sale, Twin Buttes Ranch, is home to a trove of dinosaur skeletons and Pueblo ruins, protected thus far by the area's lack of human intrusion and rugged topography. It'd be easy to just blame the ranchers, but that's not entirely fair: Twin Buttes owner Mike Fitzgerald supported selling his property to the federal government, but he gave up after waiting for years for an offer.
"I have a lot more petroglyphs (ancient rock art) on my place than the park has," Fitzgerald noted. "We had a ranger come through here and he says, 'Gosh, you've got enough for two national parks.' "
Fitzgerald said he thought his lands would be purchased within a few years, but nothing happened. Last month, he quit waiting and put up a "For Sale" sign, with an asking price of $10.5 million.
The 125,000-acre expansion is valued at $20 million, and Congress has appropriated $44.4 million for National Parks expansion purchases in 2008. Still, the Petrified Forest expansion is just one site on the National Park Service's 1.8 billion-acre wish list. But it's in the top five, so keep your fingers crossed.
If Congress can't pay for the Petrified Forest expansion before someone else snatches it up, some lucky kid will get to go digging for dinosaurs in his backyard like we all used to...except he'll actually find something worth seeing in a museum. — Ted Alvarez