By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
The Warm Springs Natural Area officially opened to the public last weekend. Residents from local communities, as well as many throughout the region, joined with officials from regional water purveyor Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) on Saturday, Dec. 2, to celebrate the opening of the former ranch area now set aside as a nature preserve to manage the endangered Moapa dace.
“It is good to finally welcome the public back to this important natural area,” said Zane Marshall, SNWA Director of Resources and Facilities, to a crowd gathered on a newly paved parking lot at the Warm Springs property. “This is definitely a big step in forwarding our long term plans for the area.”
The grand opening event provided a day out for area families, and the weather was perfect. Attendees could explore the nearly one mile-long loop trail that meanders among rushing streams, lush wetlands and historic vestiges of the property’s ranching heritage.
There were guided tours of the property offered to the public. In addition a series of brief presentations were given by SNWA experts explaining their efforts in assessing archaeological resources on the property, completing habitat improvements for the dace, and the restoration of cultural elements in the area.
Youngsters had the chance to go on a scavenger hunt through the area. And, perhaps best of all, a free barbecue lunch was cooked up and served by the award-winning local BBQ team, “The Righteous Outlaws.”
The event marked the first time that the area has been open to the public, on an ongoing basis, since before it was purchased by the SNWA in 2007. In the years since, the ranch property has undergone a transformation from an agricultural operation to a natural habitat for wildlife. SNWA experts have worked hard towards habitat restoration for the Moapa dace, a finger-size fish that lives only in the artesian springs of the Muddy River headwaters.
“This is one of the most ecologically significant sites in all of southern Nevada,” Marshall said. “Of course, it is the origin of the Muddy River and the springwater habitat for the dace. But it is also home to hundreds of other wildlife species, thirty of which are sensitive species. The management of this property benefits all of those species.”
Marshall also lauded the less visible work that had been done by SNWA archaeologists and researchers who had completed cultural assessments of the area and found some historic treasures. Old wooden corrals had been discovered amid the tall vegetation of the area which have since been fully restored. In addition an iron water wheel which once provided electricity to the early homesteaders, was reclaimed from the weeds and had been restored.
But all of these restoration efforts have also had a secondary goal, that of eventually allowing public access to the site again, Marshall said. The SNWA had secured SNPLMA grant funding to build amenities for visitation. These included the trails through the area, restroom and parking facilities, viewing platforms extending out over the stream flows, scenic overlook spots, a small amphitheatre area and interpretive kiosks that present information about the area to visitors.
“All of this today brings us full circle to one of the real purposes of our stewardship which is for the public to be able to see and learn and enjoy it,” Marshall said.
County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who also serves as SNWA Board Chair, attended Saturday’s event with her husband, Mike, and two of her granddaughters, Madeline and Emma. She said that she was pleased that the area was finally opened for the public to enjoy.
“It is great that the public will be able to utilize this beautiful area again,” Kirkpatrick said. “This is just one of those amazing hidden gems of southern Nevada and it will be good to be able to showcase it as a destination to everybody else in Clark County. Hopefully the Moapa Valley community will engage in this property and local folks will come to visit this beautiful place and to volunteer here.”
The SNWA has contracted with Great Basin Observatory for docent services at the Natural Area to keep it open for the present time. But SNWA officials hope that a volunteer force will eventually be able to transition into place to watch over visitation at the area.
“We are going to be looking to develop a much more robust volunteering base to watch over the site in the future,” Marshall said. “But for now, we hope that people will just enjoy it. We’d like people to feel some stewardship of the area and take care of the site as if it was theirs.”
Warm Springs will be open to the public during the period between Labor Day (early September) and Memorial Day (late May). The site will be open Tuesdays through Sundays from 7 am – 5 pm. It is closed on Mondays.
More information about visiting and volunteering is available at warmspringsnv.org.