Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, July 21, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Campgrounds and picnic areas around Mount Charleston will be getting a multimillion-dollar facelift over the next several years, leading to closures and potential headaches for visitors during construction.
Once the work is finished, though, visitors will be rewarded with cleaner, more accessible public areas and new trails throughout the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, which is home to Mount Charleston and several other peaks.
One construction project has already been finished at Mary Jane Falls and the Trail Canyon Trailhead, and several more sites have been shut down and cleared of old furnishings to make way for the renovations.
In total, five campgrounds, three picnic sites and five trails will see improvements, which will likely cost more than $20 million.
Funding for the projects will come through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. The SNPLMA collects a portion of the revenue generated by federal land sales in the Las Vegas Valley and directs the funding to several areas, including the construction of parks, trails and natural areas.
The centerpiece of the improvements will be a new, $10 million, 4,300-square-foot visitors center, dubbed the Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway, which is being built along Kyle Canyon Road.
The old visitors center, a dilapidated set of wooden buildings, currently sits several miles inside the national recreation area, and many visitors will turn off toward a trail or campsite before reaching it, said John Harris, an engineering staff officer with the National Forest Service.
“Most (visitors) are coming up from Vegas to escape the heat, and they may not know where they’re going,” he said. “Here, they can come to the visitor center, learn about the mountain and know where they’re going as they proceed.”
The visitors center will have office, educational and exhibit space, Harris said, and will serve as a hub to access many of the trails in the area.
Other projects will see the renovation of various sites throughout the recreation area, many of which haven’t been improved since the 1960s.
The Cathedral Rock Picnic Area and Trailhead has been closed for the summer but should reopen next spring with new access roads, new furniture and flushable toilets, said Michael Balen, a lead engineer with the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which is located, in part, in the Spring Mountains.
Similar improvements, including expanding parking lots, installing restrooms and replacing furniture, will be made at the Mahogany Grove, McWilliams and Dolomite campgrounds, as well as the Desert View Overlook and the Foxtail Group Picnic Site. The Old Mill and Kyle campgrounds also will undergo renovations and reopen as picnic areas.
Balen said construction plans have been accelerated and crews are working to minimize the time that the sites are closed, but visitors will be impacted and he expects “bottlenecks” in the areas that remain open.
“Change is coming, and it’s starting now,” he said. “We want people to know that before they come up, they should check and make sure the site they’re visiting is open.”