Modern tourists expect a fair amount of glitter and glamour during their stay among the casinos and towering hotels of the Las Vegas strip. But what inspired the earliest settlers to set up camp in this spot in the vast Mojave Desert? A system of springs produced a cienaga in the desert, and made Las Vegas a viable settlement for John C. Fremont and those who would follow. However, as the city boomed in the 1940s and ’50s, the springs ran dry, and the story of the city’s origins began to fade from public knowledge. The Las Vegas Springs Trails System revitalizes that story, once again making it a part of the collective memory of locals and tourists alike.
The Las Vegas Water System (LVWS) commissioned the series of trails, ramadas, waysides, and stations to tell the story of the lost springs and help the community reconnect to their heritage. The site they chose was something of an industrial wasteland, overlaying a functioning aquifer where LVWS stores excess water from rain storms to irrigate the city during long dry seasons.
Overland’s challenge was to remediate the damage and replace it with an interpretive experience in the middle of an area that still had a vital function to perform. “How did we tell the story and get everything in the right place, recognizing that it was an active site?” asked Principal in Charge Jim Shelton.
Rather than ignoring or hiding the site’s varied past, Overland worked with the industrial materials to tie best practices in sustainability (such as reuse) into the story. Steel pipes and board-formed concrete give the project an industrial character, even as they’ve channeled the influence of early settlers in reinterpreted spring houses and cabins.
Overland wove the trails gently across the terrain with respect to the aquifer’s current role, using strategic signage to bring the story together for visitors. As school groups and local residents walk the trails, their understanding of this precious resource grows. They are introduced to the conservation efforts of the LVWS, and while their pilgrimage is to a place of commemoration more than present activity, the population of Las Vegas can once again weave the springs into the fabric of their identity.
Visit The Last Vegas Springs Preserve Trail’s Official Page.