Estrella Mountain Regional Park is perched on a ridgeline where one could
have witnessed the unfolding of many interesting events and lives that have
been lived out in the desert landscape below. The history and lives of the area
begins with the Hohokam Indian culture. This group inhabited the area from
around 500 A.D. to 1450 A.D., and relied heavily on the rivers and streams of
the area for their existence. Water was obviously a critical element in shaping
the cultures and history of this desert environment. The Hohokam culture was
based almost exclusively on irrigated agriculture, according to the Historical
Atlas of Arizona. Part of the Hohokam, or later cultures, utilizing a canal
system, were once located within the park boundaries of Estrella Park.
By 1600 A.D. the Maricopa and Pima
Indians were the tribes living near or around the area of the current park
boundaries. Their encampments or settlements were primarily along the Gila
River and its tributaries. From 1600 to about 1860, Indian Territory claims and
the distribution of Indian tribes around the state changed significantly.
However, the tribes living near or around the park remained Maricopa and Pima
In 1691, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino
followed the Santa Cruz River north to the Gila River and then followed the
Gila west to California, passing by or possibly through a portion of the Park.
Father Kino would have been the first European to see the Sierra Estrella
range. Between 1691 and 1704, Father Kino explored and mapped many of the
Indian encampments between the park and what was then the Mexican border.
From the earliest times of Spanish
influence, until 1776, what is now the central portion of Arizona, was governed
by Spain through the colonial government in Mexico City. In 1822 the Mexican
Revolution ended Spanish rule in the desert southwest but interest in this
region from the United States was beginning t grow. Boundary disputes between
Mexico and the United States were beginning. When war broke out with Mexico in
1846, a new American presence in Arizona began. The American military now made
a commitment to the southwest to gain further access to the West Coast.
However, this presence also helped insure the containment and decline of the
native Indian population.
In 1848, the war with Mexico ended by
the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalog and the vast Mexican cession of
land. In Arizona, all the land north of the Gila River was declared United
States territory. Through the Gadsen Purchase, the U.S./ Mexico boundary was
moved to its present day location. This meant for the first time all land that
is now in Estrella Mountain Regional Park became part of the United States.
In the 1850’s the U.S. Government began
establishing Indian Reservations in Arizona. The first Reservation to be formed
was the Gila River Indian Reservation in 1859. Initially this Reservation was
established for the Pima and Maricopa Indians on their ancestral lands, just to
the east and south of Estrella Mountain Regional Park. This was the only
Reservation set up before the Civil War.
After the Civil War, came a more
permanent Anglo presence in the vicinity of the middle Gila River valley. The
late 1860’ s and 1870’s brought the first Anglo settlers into the south central
Arizona area to establish farms. During the 1870’s Indian nations or tribes
across the State were concentrated onto a few reservations. In the late 1880’s
one of the first schools built in close proximity to the Park was built in what
is currently the town of Liberty. In the 1890’s the town of Coldwater, later to
become Avondale, was established. In 1916 the town of Goodyear was established.
In the 1940’s the Maricopa County Parks
and Recreation Department began acquiring property and developing the park
system. Although County Park property was primarily concentrated in the
urbanizing Phoenix area at that time, a few community type parks were developed
in the outlying areas of the County. The County Parks and Recreation Department
continued to look for additional opportunities to develop parks and in 1953 a
spark of interest from the citizens in the Goodyear and Avondale area brought
the County’s attention to provide a community park in that part of the valley.
In July of 1953 interested citizens in
the Goodyear and Avondale area met to investigate the possibilities of
establishing a county park in the west valley. The involvement of this large
group of citizens was added to the efforts of the County Parks commission, and
the County Parks and Recreation staff to create Estrella Mountain Park later
that year. The first property for this park was purchased in September of 1953.
Estrella Mountain Park initially contained 828 acres, 428 acres of purchased
property and 400 acres of leased land, and a first years operating budget of
less than $10,000.
For the first five or six years Estrella
Mountain Park was considered as a community park. However, this perspective of
the park began to change in the late 1950’s. A National Recreation Association
study completed in 1958 prompted the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation
Department to begin applying the concept of Regional Parks to their young parks
system. Estrella Mountain Park was one of the parks to be designated as a
regional park. By 1962, Estrella Mountain Regional Park, had grown considerably
in size and during that fall the first nine holes of the Sierra Estrella Golf
Course were opened.
Even though there has been a steady
growth and expansion of facilities in the park, development is still limited to
a very small portion of the park. Most of the landscape of the park today
remains pristine desert, very similar in appearance to the landscape seen by
the first European explorers who traveled past these mountains and foothills.
These factors that have worked to resist development have preserved a very
valuable resource for the Maricopa County Parks system. Estrella Mountain
Regional Park contains many untapped resources and excellent potential for
providing a greater variety of quality recreation opportunities.