The history of the Warm Springs area has long been a sore spot for Moapa Valley residents. With its wealth of artesian springs bubbling up clear water and creating a magical green ribbon through an otherwise barren landscape, the spot was once regarded as a precious local gem. Old-timers in town remember fun times at a handful of privately-owned resort properties there. These spots provided fond memories of family picnics, school outings and community celebrations alike.
The resorts were well known throughout the region as destination spots bringing economic benefits as well. Then in the late 1970s all of that came to an end as the Moapa dace was determined to be endangered. A federal designation for the tiny fish soon followed. That sealed the fate of the area. Private resort owners were eventually muscled out. The ranchers and farmers followed suit. Nearly the whole area went into public ownership; and then, ironically, fences went up to keep the public out. Thus, for many years, this beautiful area has been a painful reminder of what once was – viewed by local folks, with distaste and resentment, as something wonderful that has been swindled away from them and then wasted.
Fortunately, a new day seems to be dawning for the area! On December 2, the Warm Springs Natural Area finally opened to the public. The 1,220 acre former ranch property was purchased in 2007 by regional water purveyor Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA). It was acquired with the intent of protecting the site’s precious water resources and of restoring the dace habitat. Since then a tremendous investment has been made at the site. To be fair, significant progress has resulted. But one piece has remained missing all these years: allowing the public back onto the property. Now that last piece has finally fallen into place. The great iron gate to the property has now swung wide open and folks can visit, free of charge. The area is open Tues. – Sun. from 7 am – 5 pm every week between Labor Day and Memorial Day.
The SNWA has done an excellent job with the property!
With the first goal being an ecological one, SNWA scientists have made an educated guess at what the original natural state of the property once was. Then they have spared no expense at restoring it. Dace numbers have shown a resurgence in recent years. And other wildlife species seem to be thriving. So apparently their approach is working. In any case, this almost-magical riparian landscape in the middle of the desert provides a breathtaking experience.
But experts have also included the property’s old ranching heritage in their plans. The remaining rusty relics of that history have not been dismissed as some invasive element on the landscape. Rather they have been respected, cherished and preserved. On display is an old iron water wheel that once provided electricity to early homesteaders. Rock-lined ditches have been uncovered and restored. Cement detention basins and irrigation gates have been unearthed. Weathered corrals have been reclaimed and rebuilt from the thick overgrowth. Painstaking care has been given to preserve the rich pioneer history present there.
Still, what would all of that work be without the public’s ability to see it? The SNWA has even attended to that. The visitor amenities at the facility are top-notch. There is a freshly paved parking lot and newly constructed restrooms. Ample walking trails wind through the property accessing the key spots of most interest to young visitors. They access the stream flows, with an observation deck even extending out over the stream at one point. Visitors are guided right down among the old ranching relics to see and experience them up close. And all along the way, well-rendered interpretive panels explain the significance of each feature to curious viewers. This newly updated and opened Natural Area provides an excellent family-friendly outdoor adventure.
No doubt, some will complain that the area is still a far cry from what the old resorts used to offer. That is certainly true. But the fact is that those days are in the past. And while this new experience is very different from the old, its quality as a family experience is still remarkably high. This beautiful property highlights both the natural treasures and pioneer heritage of the area, all while welcoming the public to enjoy it. That is what public land should be.
The Warm Springs Natural Area has become a fitting tribute to the Moapa Valley community. With its opening, it has been returned to its place as a hidden gem for the entire region to enjoy.