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2,900-acre park provides recreation, respite from urban Las Vegas

Taking to the trails at Clark County Wetlands Park is good for the heart and mind, and a recently launched mobile app can help with both the exercise and education.

Once downloaded on a phone, Wetlands Park Navigator gives visitors the near equivalent of a Marauders Map and a Hogwarts library card in Harry Potter’s world. The app provides maps and suggested tours based on the user’s location in Wetlands Park.

Dots representing app users move as they follow a trail or a chosen tour, giving visitors a good idea of where they are on the map. Phones chime to alert users of valuable information on nearby panels that explain everything from the creation story of the 2,900-acre park to the habits of the park’s most surprising residents, beavers.

Maps invite walkers to explore new paths with confidence, and the Wetlands Park Navigator mobile app includes access to fascinating facts previously found only inside the nature center’s exhibit hall.

“You have the whole Wetlands Park in the palm of your hand,” Wetlands Park environmental specialist Ben Jurand said. The mobile app was made possible because of support from the Wetlands Park Friends nonprofit advocacy group and a grant from REI Co-op, a national outdoor equipment retailer.

“It’s by no means a replacement for being in the park,” Jurand added. Rather, a goal for the app is to complement and expand access to a resource on the southeast end of the valley that includes a 210-acre nature preserve protecting birds, mammals and reptiles that survive and thrive there because of the available water, food, shade and shelter.

Attracting a wide audience

The nature preserve portion of the park gets the greatest number of visitors because of its trail system (now more user-friendly because of the app and signage improvements) and the nature center. But the park is massive, and other access points serve increasing numbers of bicyclists and walkers on paths through less developed desert areas.

Clark County Wetlands Park parallels the Las Vegas Wash for 7 miles from the nature preserve on the east end of Tropicana Avenue to within hundreds of yards of Lake Las Vegas. In addition to providing recreational opportunities for people and shelter for Mojave Desert critters, the park allows visitors to better understand how the Las Vegas Valley’s treated wastewater and urban runoff are returned to Lake Mead via the wash. Exhibits in the park’s nature center explain aspects of that flow, and now the same information is available for easy reading or listening on the mobile app.

“The Wetlands Park Friends were looking for a project that would reach a wide audience,” Jurand said. “This will do that. So many people interact with things through their phones now.”

When first downloaded, the Wetlands Park Navigator has language options for English, Spanish and Tagalog. “There will be whole new groups of people who will be able to learn more about the park,” Jurand added.

Chris Leavitt, president of Wetlands Park Friends and a wetlands advocate for the past four decades, played a key role in ultimately protecting natural resources and wildlife in a vulnerable space that’s evolved into a much-visited park. A mobile app was a logical next step in helping people understand and protect the park’s future, she said.

“One of the things the park is about is facilitating the encounters between people and natural miracles,” Leavitt said. “We need to take time to appreciate nature; we need to look for things that we might never have seen before.”

Refuge and recreation

Coyotes roam freely at Wetlands Park. Gambel’s quail sift through coyote scat for seeds. Great blue herons fish in turtle ponds. Wintering ducks can be easily seen from the Big Weir and Powerline Crossing bridges and along the pedestrian paths near Wells Trailhead and Terrazza Park. Skittish rabbits forage under desert bushes. Visiting American white pelicans fly over the Las Vegas Wash. A beaver crosses a path and disappears, leaving behind only water marks in the shape of its tail.

“This place, sitting where it does, right on the edge of a major urban area, is all about that kind of contact,” Leavitt said.

Because of the abundant wildlife, the nature preserve is off-limits to dogs, bicycles and scooters. Within those 210 acres are miles of walking trails that wind past stands of tall cottonwoods, placid ponds and dense habitats for animals, including everything from raccoons and bobcats to American coots and great horned owls.

“What’s so special about Clark County Wetlands Park?” Leavitt asked. “First, the park is all about water, but it’s not about natural water. The park is an artifact of our urban area. It’s all about using the water that we’ve already used, as it returns down to Lake Mead.” With its continuous flow, the Las Vegas Wash is considered an urban river. And that water has been attracting animals since before Las Vegas became a city.

Leavitt said she hopes the park’s new app will encourage more people to “step out your back door and step into nature” to be surrounded by the remarkable plants and animals of the Mojave Desert.

“Visitors come here for recreation,” she said about Wetlands Park. “They come for learning, and they come for a respite from our 24/7 go-go here in Las Vegas. It’s nice to come here, put on the brakes and get away from that for a little bit.”

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