At 10 a.m. the wind chill made the temperature in the northeast Las Vegas Valley feel like 34 degrees. And yet, nearly 100 volunteers had already started picking up glass bottles, shotgun shells and garbage of all sorts at “The Great Unconformity Cleanup” near Sunrise Mountain.
They opted to spend time outside instead of participating in Back Friday shopping.
The #OptOutside movement began with Recreational Equipment Inc., or REI, in 2015 when the company announced that all employees would have a paid holiday the Friday after Thanksgiving and that no transactions, online or otherwise, would go through the store on Black Friday.
This year more than 13,000 employees nationwide were encouraged to find a cleanup project. In Nevada, REI gave a grant to Get Outdoors Nevada for the second year to help with “The Great Unconformity Cleanup.”
Bertha Gutierrez, volunteer program director for Get Outdoors Nevada, said the best part of putting together these events is the volunteers, because they show up with a good attitude and leave with a new perspective.
“Volunteering is the hands-on way of educating,” she said. “We can do a lecture on illegal dumping and littering and cleaning, but it’s very powerful when people participate and learn.”
The cleanup also was sponsored by Citizens for Active Management, which is leading the push to make more than 40,000 acres of the Great Unconformity a public recreation area. The Great Unconformity is a geologic feature just off Lake Mead Boulevard, near Sunrise Mountain and its neighbor Frenchman Mountain, where an outcrop merges two layers of rock from different eras that are about 1.2 billion years apart, meaning that much time in geologic history is missing from the formation.
“Establishing an actively managed area to the east of the city, with designated trails and interpretive signage and some sort of visitor center, would not only offer people a different and additional outdoor experience, but also would take some of the pressure off Red Rock,” said Citizens for Active Management spokesperson Helen Mortenson.
Making a difference
Many bundled-up locals at the event said they frequent Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and support the idea of another area on the city’s outskirts to explore nature.
Christine Castaneda, 33, said she and her boyfriend, Garrett Sliger, 35, take frequent trips to Red Rock and Mount Charleston but had never heard of the Great Unconformity. Despite the 40-minute drive from their home in the southwest valley, both felt they were making a difference, one piece of glass at a time.
“The environment is getting dirtier, and we wanted to do something about it,” Castaneda said. “It’s really sad how much trash there is so you can’t really enjoy it the way we want to. I’m sure it pushes people away.”
Sliger had heard about Citizens for Active Management’s mission to make a trail in the area and wanted to help any way he could.
“I just wanted to help chip in a little bit,” he said.
Residents were given garbage bags, trash pickers, buckets, T-shirts and water bottles, but one Arizona family brought tools just in case.
“In a time like Thanksgiving we want to show our blessings and gratitude,” said Tamara Larson, 50, of Mesa. “When we pulled up, we were sick to our stomachs. We thought, ‘What is wrong with people?’”
Larson said with her two youngest children, Sophie, 19, and Clark, 22, at Snow College in Utah, she and her husband, Dan, 53, have been meeting the children in Las Vegas for two years to do service projects over the holiday weekend.
“We’re just teaching the kids to be good citizens,” Larson said.
Other volunteers also felt the need to help serve a community they don’t exactly call home, simply for the appreciation of nature.
Brian Schopfel, 34, of Evergreen, Colorado, said he and his fiancee had been traveling across the country since August and discovered the project while on their way to spend Thanksgiving in Las Vegas, where his fiancee had lived for eight years.
“It seems ridiculous it’d be this polluted. I haven’t seen many other spots like this,” Schopfel said. “I want everyone else to be able to appreciate the land.”
Despite the 9 a.m. start, 23-year-old Caesar Baltazar made the 30-minute drive from his home in Henderson, the only one of his siblings to do so, because the environment of his hometown meant too much to him to stay in bed Friday.
“I like to go out and see nature, not trash,” Baltazar said. “Every revolution starts with yourself, so if you want to see a change in the world, you have to change yourself and put in the work yourself, and from there lead by example.”