Posts Tagged ‘volunteers’

Out of the Ivory Towers and Into the Field: A Glowing Example of Public Conservation at Montezuma Well

February 14th, 2013

Out of the Ivory Towers and Into the Field: A Glowing Example of Public Conservation at Montezuma Well

 Sara Kerfoot

            Conservation is a science. There are specific consequences if conservation is done poorly; a lack of knowledge can be devastating to artifacts and sites. Not everyone has the opportunity to go through training that would adequately prepare an individual to properly handle and preserve artifacts from future deterioration, but not all conservation work needs to be done in a lab. There are certain aspects of conservation that the public has an opportunity to take part in given the right direction. Montezuma Well is an exemplary case of when public outreach and conservation can work together to create an ongoing example of cultural heritage. Montezuma Well National Monument has an active thousand-year-old irrigation system and uses the public to help maintain it.

            One of the National Park Service’s main goals is to preserve cultural heritage for future generations. Conservation is the act of preserving nomenclatural resources; conservators are not always conserving pieces of waterlogged wood and broken ceramics, they are stewards to heritage and in some cases that heritage is still active. Montezuma Well National Monument in Camp Verde, Arizona is a huge sinkhole; human modification can be seen in cliff dwellings and an active thousand-year-old irrigation ditch (National Park Service 2013). The ingenious Sinagua people of the Verde Valley created this canal; it pumps 1.5 million gallons of water from the sinkhole (Montezuma Well) every day at a constant 74 degrees Fahrenheit (National Park Service 2013). The site, as a whole, is protected and preserved by the park service. The maintenance crew, the park archaeologists, and park rangers work together to survey this ancient ditch on a daily basis; the maintenance crew preserves the site by ensuring the water flow is not obstructed by flora and fauna, they also patch leaky areas. Professionals preserve the integrity of the irrigation canal, but it is not limited to them.

montezumas well Irrigation System at Montezuma Well (Credit: Author)

              Since the irrigation system is still active and brings water to residents in the Verde Valley, each year this ancient water supply is re-directed to the river during winter. During winter, plants and debris encroach upon the area where flowing water runs during the spring and summer months. It takes hundreds of hours to clear out the rooted plants and debris before re-directing the canal back to its original path. One of the ways the park manages this huge feat is by enlisting volunteers to help with the project. Since 2004, the Volunteers of Outdoor Arizona (VOAz) hold an event where they clear weeds and remove calcium and travertine deposits from the ditch. Each year around mid-April, for one weekend, these volunteers help anywhere between 300 to 500 working hours (VOAz 2012). Their dedication and effort, with the park’s assistance, is a valuable component to the park’s goal of preserving cultural heritage. In order for the public to understand conservation, they need to have opportunities to get involved with conservation. Programs that allow for an interested public to participate in conservation work are integral for creating a learning environment. Public outreach is necessary for the discipline of conservation to thrive.

            Archaeologists and conservators are uncovering a story. But if the story is still going, professionals have a duty to not put a “no touch” sign on it and bar it from public access. There are multiple cases when conservators must protect an artifact so it survives, however, that is not the case for everything re-discovered. As tempting as it is to allow conservators to preserve all aspects of cultural heritage, that is not a feasible task. And in some cases, it may not be a desired role for a conservator. Where the public can play a role in conservation, they should. It allows for the public’s knowledge to grow and for them to create a connection enough to have care and concern for a site. The only way to safely do this is to create a link between the public and conservators.  As long as there is a strong enough connection to cultural heritage, it will continue to be preserved.


 National Park Service, 2013. Exploring Montezuma Well. In: Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona. National Park Service. <>. Accessed February 2, 2013.

 Volunteers of Outdoor Arizona, 2012. Montezuma Castle Conservation Work. In Volunteers of Outdoor Arizona. <>. Accessed February 2, 2013.

Public Outreach