Springs Fever

Toast your host, Las Vegas: One full rotation around the calendar and still the preserve perseveres.

"I had great confidence in the Springs Preserve when it started, and I still do," says Jay Nichols, the sprawling nature attraction's acting director and general curator. "It will become one of the premier stops in the West for people to come visit, it's such a magnificent project."

Raise a recycled glass to the green-centric Springs. Celebrating its one-year anniversary Sunday as one of our town's largest, nongaming go-to destinations, it'll throw itself a bash with concerts and comedy complementing an all-you-can-slurp-gobble-lick-and-scoop ice cream festival.

The Second City improv troupe, the Celtic Storm Dance Company, Killian's Angels and the Pickadillos will drop in on the Springs to mark the day, which also will include behind-the-scenes tours of the preserve's considerable interactive/educational exhibits, trails, architecture and nature-nourished beauty.

"It has so many things going for it," Nichols says. "A large percentage of our visitors are locals, but out-of-state visitors have done research to find out about us, and we've had people come from Korea and Germany and Scandinavia. It's going to be a process over the next few years to gain the kind of popularity that will really put us on the map internationally."

From bats and bunnies to conservationists and environmentalists, the preserve nurtures nature's abundant gifts like an eco-amusement park.

Glassed-in desert critters play peekaboo with onlookers in the Origen Experience: Find that finger-length snake yet? Check out the pencil eraser-size head poking out from under a rock, the slitherer's shed skin crumbled nearby. Want to transform your home into nature's best bud? Head into the Desert Living Center for a room-by-room demonstration of environmental tips and techniques. Kids suffering joystick withdrawal? Veer into the New Frontier Gallery, where arcade games channel electronic razzle into educational dazzle, players' prowess rewarded with lessons on making the green scene and sustaining enviro-living.

"A lot of our exhibits are interactive, so children can be entertained and yet learn something without really knowing they're learning anything," Nichols says. "And our walking trails are popular, there's about a mile and a half of them, and we have some archeological dig sites along the way."

Witness the mechanics of flash flooding in a sculpted ravine re-creation soaked by serious storm runoff, so the next time the city is waterlogged, you'll have learned enough to avoid piloting a submarine that once was your car. Tired of constructing that slot-A-into-flap-B bookcase in your garage? Find instructions on building your own windmill and get the eco-scoop on solar-powered air conditioners, energy exercise bikes, a patio made from reclaimed wood and -- add this word to your vocabulary and impress friends, co-workers and befuddled strangers -- photovoltaic panels to snatch sun rays to convert into energy.

"A lot of people come to Las Vegas and think the desert is out there somewhere, and they don't understand that they might be standing on the street in front of a large hotel, and they're in the middle of the desert," Nichols says. "Here, we've got 180 acres of pretty much undisturbed desert, nothing was built on it until we built Springs Preserve. We have restored a lot of the land, and there are a lot of indigenous animals onsite, and rare species."

He means pocket mice and gophers, lizards, a gray fox, Gila monsters and pallid bats -- those creepy little upside down creatures weigh less than an ounce and have a nearly 9-inch wingspan -- to name only a fraction of the nonhuman population. Eyeball prodigious plant life, a reminder of why this once-lush region was named Las Vegas, translating into "The Meadows." And duck into the endless video alcoves and compact theaters with films detailing local history and the nuances of nature.

"This location has a great deal of history," Nichols says. "The springs that bubbled up here, the source of water was so abundant that it was the reason people came through here, whether native Indians or Spanish explorers. The reason Las Vegas is even here at all is because of the water. This is the real birthplace of Las Vegas. The Mormon Fort would not have been built nearby had it not been for the water they could get here."

Some animals are tiny, but that amphitheater is towering, a venue created to host concerts and cultural events. Stomach giving you back talk? A Wolfgang Puck cafe is right this way. And an imposing structure under construction foreshadows the arrival of a prominent new tenant.

"The Nevada State Museum will have their new building on our site," Nichols says. "They are our partner and neighbor. We are doing outreach with all the other cultural institutions in town, and we have good relationships with UNLV and the College of Southern Nevada."

We forget anything? Yes, approximately ... countless other attractions.

"It's hard to convince people Las Vegas has something of this nature," Nichols says. "But once they come onsite, you don't have to convince them any further."

On Sunday, raise a dairy treat to desert life.

Happy one-candle-on-the-cake, Springs Preserve -- and a tip of the fudge-ripple ice-cream cone to ya.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.