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 tribes.
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.