Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun
Friday, Oct. 2, 2009 | 1:55 a.m.
Whitney Mesa Nature Preserve
Beyond the Sun
About 30 yards into the city of Henderson’s newest trail system, there’s a sound so subtle and natural that you may hear it for a minute or two before you realize how out-of-place it is.
It’s a babbling brook -- a simple piece of nature that would hardly draw a second thought in most places. Against a desert backdrop, however, it takes on an otherworldly quality.
The brook is the star of the city’s newest attraction, the Whitney Mesa Nature Preserve, which officially opened last week. The preserve is a series of seven small, interconnected trails nestled at the base of the Whitney Mesa’s east side, on Patrick Road west of Galleria Drive, which take about half an hour to explore at a walking pace.
The $1.7 million preserve was built with federal money made available through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, which allows local municipalities to use a portion of the proceeds from auctions of nearby federal lands to build parks and trails projects.
The act has provided millions of dollars for Henderson and funded dozens of individual projects, ranging from traditional parks to skate parks to this nature preserve.
“Our parks are very heavily used throughout the city,” Henderson Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Kim Becker said. “People embrace them. But something like this is a bit different, it’s off the beaten path. It’s more about the outdoors and education. I think this offers a different type of enjoyment than what you do in a traditional park.”
The brook is a natural feature that forms from water runoff from the mesa that combines with an underground stream, which emerges at one corner of the preserve and sprouts a dense thicket of foliage along its way to the other side, where it goes back underground.
Becker said the preserve is a small haven for plants, birds and desert animals, which the city hopes will lend an educational aspect to the preserve.
In addition, Henderson Park Planner Patricia Ayala said, setting aside the preserve allowed the city to clean up an area that had a history of illegal off-road vehicle use and illegal dumping -- city crews had to haul 14 abandoned cars out of the preserve during its construction.
“This is kind of a cool area to preserve,” Ayala said. “You’ve got the bluffs, the nature and running water, which is extremely rare in the valley.”
It’s a breezy Thursday morning, at about 9:30 a.m., and 10 people and a dog are on the new trails to enjoy one of the first comfortable days in a while.
Mark Zambalis, who lives nearby, brought his 2-year-old daughter, Jordan, and the family dog for a morning walk. He said he is impressed with the way the area has been cleaned up.
“We use (the trails) every morning,” he said. “This is our nature walk. They leveled it out nicely enough for a 2 1/2-year-old to walk on her own, so it’s great.”
Becker and Ayala said the trail system was designed to make it accessible to as many people as possible. The inclines on the trails are gradual, and where the grade was too steep, the city put in stairs. Three of the seven trails are wheelchair accessible.
“We wanted to make sure that everybody has a chance to go down into the stream area and get a good look at the plants, the birds, the bugs and the bunnies,” Ayala said. “There are a lot of bunnies here.”
The two Parks and Recreation employees said it gave them great pleasure to see the trails in use already, and stopped to talk with several trail users to get their feedback and suggestions. Most people had a few small suggestions, but their comments about the nature preserve were all positive.
Zambalis said he would like to see a climbing area on the bluff’s face; two women walking the trail for exercise suggested that the city expand the preserve and add more trails.
Ayala said the next phase for Whitney Mesa Nature Preserve has already been funded by the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act and is in preliminary planning stages. Tentatively, she said, the plan is to extend the preserve southeast to the nearby Whitney Ranch Recreation Center and add a BMX bicycle track and other amenities. Another project, the Whitney Mesa Trailhead, has also already been funded and, when built, will add trails on
top of the mesa that will run from Sunset Road to the nature preserve.
Public meetings for input on the next phase will likely happen in November, Ayala said.
One of the woman walking the trail for exercise, Lori Evans, said she grew up in the area and remembers using the area that is now the preserve for motorcycle riding (before it was illegalized, she points out) and parties.
“Now, it’s kind of nice to see that it’s being used for a good purpose,” Evans said. “As we’ve gotten older, we’ve become more concerned about preserving things like this.”
The other woman, Mary Sayward, compared the preserve’s trails to stunning trails she has walked in other parts of the country.
“It’s nice to see something like that coming here,” she said.