Petrified Forest adds 26,000 acres of private land

PHOENIX (AP) ? The National Park Service is gaining control over an even larger expanse of rainbow-colored petrified wood, ancient fossils and petroglyphs left by American Indian tribes that once lived in eastern Arizona.

The agency secured the first major private holding within the Petrified Forest National Park boundaries on Thursday. The $8 million purchase caps off years of negotiations with the help of a conservation group.

Scientists say they’re eager to explore the 26,000 acres that have remained largely untouched and discover more treasures.

Congress expanded the boundaries of the park in 2004 from 93,500 acres to about 218,500. The funding for land purchases came years later through a federal land protection program.

The Park Service now has acquired about a third of the acreage it wants within the petrified forest boundaries.