Early pioneers of Las Vegas could not gaze upon the mountainous casinos or the rugged traffic infrastructure that has become synonymous with this city of one million plus. They had no glimpse of neon or the world famous Las Vegas Boulevard that would come to be. Prior to the Neon City, “The meadows,” or “Las Vegas” to the early Spanish traders, welcomed many travelers passing by with its natural springs. Because of the rarity of springs in a harsh desert climate, the land around them was quickly settled. In 1905, the Union Pacific Railroad purchased the surrounding land and created the Las Vegas town site. Water from the springs powered the railroad’s steam locomotives. Later, when the wells dried up, Las Vegas was already on its way to becoming the fastest growing city in the nation. In 1954, the Las Vegas Valley Water District inherited the land the springs resided on, which had remained virtually untouched. Historical importance protected this site while human progress surrounded it. Now after 30 years, the Water District, teamed with a host of design consultants and contractors, has embarked on a $180 million dollar crusade to restore the natural beauty of this timeless piece of our history.
Last May marked the beginning of a 3-year construction endeavor to be concluded in May 2005 for the Las Vegas Centennial. The Las Vegas Springs Preserve will proudly show the world the roots of Las Vegas and how a small meadow in the desert turned into the fastest growing city in the Nation. In fact, the Water District is taking great lengths to make sure that many of the consultants and contractors working on the Preserve are locally based.
Not only will the Preserve be one of the most spectacular realizations of the West, but also a tremendous effort is being taken to ensure that the Preserve receives an exceptional LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) Rating. Jerry Stueve, the Senior Civil Engineer with the Water District, stated in regards to the LEED Rating, it will be a “demonstration of the [Water] District’s commitment to portray how important it is to live in the desert,” and hence preserve the desert. Most of the materials being used for construction will be recycled or recyclable materials. Wood products utilized will come from a sustainable forest. Having a good LEED Rating or “Green Building” also translates to lower maintenance costs down the road.
The Preserve’s future Visitors Center plans to illustrate the major role the Las Vegas Springs has had in the creation of Las Vegas, and give a voice to those that have helped create Southern Nevada the way it is today. The Visitors Center will include an indoor theater, an amphitheater, a café, and a gift shop, as well as three uniquely themed museum galleries that will emphasize the history of the valley from ancient times to urbanization.
Also on the Preserve will be the Desert Living Center, which will serve as an educational center for promoting sustainable living in the desert. Visitors will be encouraged to adapt their lifestyles to the desert environment and be motivated to recognize the importance of sustainability. The Desert Living Center will host a Dialogue Center for workshops and educational seminars as well as a Design Demonstration Area. The demonstration area will feature a Sustainable Gallery, which will offer a hands-on, practical guide to sustainable products available to homeowners and builders. A Design Lab and a Technical Training Lab will also be within the Design Demonstration Area in the Desert Living Center.
The Preserve will also include the future site of the Nevada State Museum and Historical Society. The museum will be relocated from its current home in Lorenzi Park and will become an integral part of the Las Vegas Springs Preserve experience. The museum will complement the Preserve in that it will tell the whole story of Nevada, while the Preserve and the museum galleries in the Visitors Center will be site-specific.
At the heart of the project is the Northern Preserve, which will include over 3 miles of trails trekking through the 175-acre site, of which only 60-acres will be developed. The Northern Preserve will include native plants and wildlife, and feature informational signs that detail their importance to the desert ecosystem.
The Las Vegas Springs once supported beautiful grassy meadows, and the Preserve project intends to revive the former wetlands in what is now used as a detention basin. The 30-acre detention basin will be transformed into a cienega, wetlands in Spanish. The cienega is expected to filter storm water and water run-off. Stueve stated “We anticipate when water leaves the basin it will be cleaner than when it entered.” It is a hope that in creating a new habitat with the cienega it will attract new species of both wildlife and plant-life.
Much of the Preserve site infrastructure was contracted out to Poggemeyer and Carson Taylor Harvey. A sound-wall between the Preserve and Interstate 95 is well underway. The wall will act as a sound barrier and insulator from highway heat and will be decorated with native symbols that have actually been found on the Preserve site. The half-constructed outer perimeter of the wall is a concrete pre-cast, while the inside is insulated with bails of straw, in keeping with earth-friendly materials. Resin-paved roadways are planned throughout the Preserve. Robin Allen, the Carson Taylor Harvey project manager stated “It’s difficult trying to find people that know how to install straw bails with the proper requirements, and hardly anyone has installed resin paving.” Allen continues, “The products being used are either old technology or very new technology.”
Plans to replace pumping stations for the Preserve are in progress in hopes to replace the reservoir on the site. Everything being done to the site is given careful attention to its significance in the future.
Overall construction is somewhat hindered because of the delicate nature of the Preserve. Careful consideration is being taken to not disturb the natural site any more than necessary. Stueve stated, “We’re taking every precaution we can to protect the biological and historical importance of the site.” Stueve continued, “We are restricting construction to only the areas that have been previously disturbed.”
Despite the challenging nature of construction, the Preserve is well underway and plans to spearhead the 2005 Las Vegas Centennial celebration. After decades of being closed, Las Vegas, as well as the world, will be welcomed to experience the Neon City’s roots firsthand through the Las Vegas Springs Preserve.