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September 2, 2014

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Lake Mead’s Willow Beach to get $20 million upgrade

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Sam Morris / Sun file photo

Lake Mead’s Willow Beach, 14 miles south of Hoover Dam on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, is set to get a $20 million upgrade. The revamped beach area will include a state-of-the-art RV campground, picnicking area, camping area and nature trail. The area is scheduled be ready for use in late 2010.

Willow Beach

The Colorado River winds its way past Lake Mead's Willow Beach in Arizona. The beach, 14 miles south of Hoover Dam on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, is set to get a $20 million upgrade. The revamped beach area will include a state-of-the-art RV campground, picnicking area, camping area and nature trail. The area is scheduled be ready for use in late 2010. Launch slideshow »

Willow Beach

National Park Service officials are expecting that a revamped Willow Beach area at Lake Mead, complete with a state-of-the-art RV campground, will be ready for use in late 2010.

The design phase of the $20 million project is done, and park planner Jim Holland expects it to go out to bid within the next few weeks.

"I'm eager to see this project move ahead and bring Willow Beach to a place of prominence (within Lake Mead)," Holland said. Willow Beach is 14 miles south of Hoover Dam on the Arizona side of the Colorado River.

The initial stages of the Willow Beach overhaul began in 1992, as plans formed to address the area's flood hazards. Officials contemplated options for removal and relocation. In 1979, Holland said a flood wiped out a 175-unit campground, and a 1995 plan called for the removal of a 60-unit trailer village, situated in a flood-prone area. The village was removed in 1995, followed by the motel in 2000.

"The big issue we had to address in our planning were flood hazards being located where four drainages come into the river," Holland said.

The plan, funded through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, includes a new campground in a safe area, along with a rebuilt store and new park and picnic facilities. It also delineates a 1.5-mile trail system along the shore.

"The whole concept is to really make it a publicly accessible shoreline," Holland said.

This will mean consolidating commercial activities and moving the future store/snack bar farther from the water.

"The design for this building has a lot of overhang, a lot of shade," Holland said. "It will make it enjoyable to be down on the river there."

Another highlight of the area will be the campground with full hookups for power, water and wastewater. Visitors will also have access to wireless Internet.

This represents a first for Lake Mead officials, as previous sites have been developed by concessionaires, Holland said.

"Tent camping is no longer the means of choice for camping at Lake Mead," Holland said. "To make this campground more usable, we felt the utilities were necessary."

The new site will still allot space for tents.

Holland predicted the new site would eventually double the amount of visitors arriving at Willow Beach, which typically draws 150,000 visitors annually.

Kim Roundtree, general manager of the site's Black Canyon Willow Beach River Adventures, said she is eagerly anticipating the new site, which will include food operations for the first time.

"It's such a quaint and gorgeous area right now," she said. "All we can do is make it better."

She pointed to the new fishing pier installed last July, which can accommodate about 80 rods, noting the area served as a fishing hot spot. While the new concession building is being constructed, she said, Black Canyon would still operate out of temporary quarters for kayak, canoe and boat rental.

Holland noted Willow Beach is a unique area within Lake Mead, because it abuts the Colorado River. This makes for cooler water temperatures of 54 degrees.

"It's not an environment where you want to swim," Holland said. "It's more the setting you're going there to enjoy."

Holland said he was happy with the timing of the project, tentatively coinciding with the completion of the Hoover Dam Bypass as well as a widening of U.S. 93 on the Arizona side.

"I think it's going to be a wonderful asset for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area," he said.

Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or [email protected].

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