When Gov. Brian Sandoval goes looking for solitude once he’s term-limited out of office next year, there’s a chance you’ll see him at Walker River State Recreation Area, one of three new facilities being preserved that in the future will attract millions of tourists from all over the world.
Sandoval addressed some 350 tourism professionals from across the state Tuesday in one of the closing sessions of the two-day Governor’s Global Tourism Summit at the Flamingo.
For Sandoval, addressing the annual conference was a 180-degree turn from the first one he hosted in 2010, when the state was in the depths of the Great Recession, money was tight and the state’s primary mission was diversifying the economy and adding jobs.
This time he was able to talk about investing in new attractions that will complement the state’s rural attractions.
Earlier this year, Sandoval announced in his State of the State speech that he wanted to add two state parks and preserve the historic Stewart Indian School near Carson City.
The Walker River park is expected to open next summer, and camping there is on the governor’s to-do list. On a day trip to the park, Sandoval said he saw deer, antelope and wild turkeys in the area he called “a free-range zoo.”
Formerly the site of three private ranches and a hideaway for hotel magnate Barron Hilton, the 12,000 acres along 28 miles of the east fork of the Walker River that hugs the Nevada-California border has been inaccessible to the public.
“You would have had to be John C. Fremont in order to get access to that area,” Sandoval told summit attendees.
Sandoval said a cabin where Mark Twain stayed with the ill brother of James Nye, Nevada’s territorial governor, will be restored as part of the project.
Some of the camping areas along the river will only be accessible by canoe or kayak, and park land will be accessible from near Yerington and from Dayton, California.
Another state park is planned in Southern Nevada. Ice Age Fossils State Park will be adjacent to Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in North Las Vegas.
“Sometimes I consider myself Mr. Nevada, and I think I know everything about our state,” Sandoval said. “They took me to this place that is adjacent to Tule Springs, and I had no idea we had ice age fossils right here on the border of Las Vegas.”
Sandoval said he toured the park with a UNLV professor.
“He says, ‘Brian, do you know what this is?’ and I said, ‘A rock,’ and he said, ‘No, it’s a bone from a woolly mammoth.’ So it’s a tremendous opportunity for a place that is so accessible for all who visit Las Vegas to experience a place where you can see things you can’t see anywhere else.”
Sandoval said the Legislature approved spending $4.6 million to begin restoring Stewart Indian School, which first opened in 1890 and will now become a showcase for all of Nevada’s American Indian tribes.
Sandoval said during his two terms in office he has been in the shoes of tourists, noting that he traveled earlier this year on a trade mission to Panama, Peru and Chile. He parlayed the mission with visits to the Panama Canal, Machu Picchu and Easter Island.
“I just want people who come to Nevada to have the same type of experience I had when I was there,” he said.
A salute to the industry
Gov. Brian Sandoval referenced the Oct. 1 shooting in his address to the tourism industry Tuesday.
“We experienced a devastating tragedy on Oct. 1,” he said. “I had the opportunity to talk to some of the employees at some of the properties, particularly at the Mandalay, and they said (what means the most to them are) those small moments when you talk to them about the people that were directly affected and experienced that and how they (the resort community) came together and how the people of the community came together to support them. People not only from across the United States but across the world saw the people of the great state of Nevada at their best.”