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September 30, 2014

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Sunset Park renovation helps put focus on frontier history

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Erin Dostal

Cyclists travel down a newly renovated path at Sunset Park, 2601 E. Sunset Road. Clark County officials unveiled improvements to 140 acres of the park Tuesday afternoon.

Sunset Park Renovatins - Ribbon Cutting

A renovated portion of Sunset Park,  2601 E. Sunset Road, is shown. Clark County officials unveiled improvements to 140 acres of the park Tuesday afternoon. Launch slideshow »

Map of Sunset Park

Sunset Park

2601 E Sunset Road, Las Vegas

The focus of a newly renovated portion of Sunset Park is partly on preserving what’s old: Southern Nevada’s desert frontier history.

Complete with “interpretive panels” to teach joggers and bikers about the area’s rich past, Clark County officials unveiled a 140-acre improved portion of the approximately 325-acre park on Tuesday.

The improvements include new children’s play areas, shade structures, landscaping and park access from Sunset Road.

Construction on the improvements began in 2009 and cost $11.1 million. The funds came from the sale of federal lands through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act and a $65,000 contribution from the Regional Transportation Commission.

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, whose district includes the park, said his favorite part of the renovations is “the fact that they could preserve the integrity of the area and, at the same time, make it accessible for everybody.”

“People are looking for a place they can go and not have to spend a fortune,” he said, adding that because the park is free, it is especially valuable during down economic times.

“It’s not your typical park with [only] grass and ball fields,” he said.

The park, 2601 E. Sunset Road in Paradise Township, now includes a 3.5-acre dog park along Warm Springs Road that is three times larger than the original dog park on the property. That’s something Sisolak said his two daughters, both dog lovers, were happy to see.

“I’ve been getting pressure at home about this,” he said, smiling.

From Sunset Park, the Las Vegas Strip is visible in the distance, like a desert mirage. And that’s the point — escape and preservation.

“When you’re out there, you don’t realize you’re in an urban environment,” said Justin Williams, a senior park planner for Clark County Comprehensive Planning. Williams said his favorite part of the renovation is a 1.5-mile loop of trails around the dunes.

Wendy Fenner, a principal civic engineer with Clark County Public Works, said her two favorite parts are the dune overlook and the dog park.

“You kind of oversee the entire park...You get a 360-degree view,” Fenner said of the overlook. “I love the dog park, just because I love dogs.”

Sunset Park was acquired by Clark County in 1967. Before that, it served a variety of uses and was The Miller Ranch during the 1930s.

The Miller Ranch was named for John F. Miller, who built Hotel Nevada, according to a historical marker on a trail. Miller hired Bert Gibbs in 1932 to come work on the ranch and take care of the turkeys, horses and other animals on the property. Gibbs had moved to Nevada to work on construction of the Hoover Dam.

Rollie Gibbs, Bert Gibbs’ son, now 75, was born on the park’s property. He and his brother, Delvert “Sonny” Gibbs, 78, grew up on the ranch and gained a passion for Nevada history.

Even before it was a ranch, the park property was full of naturally occurring sand dunes — crescent shaped sand formations also known as “barchans” that wrapped themselves around Mesquite Trees. It was populated by everyone “from Paiutes to the pioneers of Las Vegas,” Sisolak said.

Rollie and Sonny Gibbs were present at Tuesday’s event to tell their stories. Jane Gibbs, Sonny Gibbs’ daughter-in-law, said that when she moved from Indiana to Nevada when she was 10, her parents made learning the area’s history a priority.

That’s something Jane Gibbs’ family and her future in-laws had in common.

“Being Vegas, we always blow something up,” she said, referring to the Strip’s older casinos that had been demolished. “We’re not known for saving history, so it’s nice they’re trying to preserve it.”

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