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Spring opening set for Nature Center Exhibit Gallery

A solar-powered dragonfly with a 6-foot wingspan will soar over visitors’ heads this spring when the new Nature Center Exhibit Gallery opens at the Clark County Wetlands Park.

The 10,000-square-foot museum inside the $15 million center will tell the story of the man-made natural area, which serves as an urban oasis for wildlife.

"It’s just driving us crazy. We can’t wait to open," said Christine Leavitt, curator of education for the county’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Wetlands Park is a mile wide and seven miles long, taking in a stretch of the Las Vegas Wash from the east end of Flamingo Road to Lake Las Vegas. The Nature Center sits at the southern edge of a 210-acre preserve filled with ponds, hiking trails and bike paths.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani got a sneak peak at the center Wednesday, as exhibits were delivered and installed.

"That’s so cool," she said as she pulled a lever that made a model cottontail rabbit pop up from its hole.

Though some of the displays echo exhibits at the Springs Preserve, the Las Vegas Valley Water District’s $235 million monument to desert living at U.S. Highway 95 and Valley View Boulevard, Giunchigliani doesn’t see the two publicly funded facilities as repetitive.

"The wetlands have always been the wetlands. This will just be an addition to it. I think it will be an additional jewel," she said.

The Las Vegas Wash serves as the lone drainage outlet for the valley and carries the community’s treated sewer water downstream to Lake Mead.

For more than a decade, the multi-agency Las Vegas Wash Coordination Committee has overseen the construction of more than a dozen water- control structures to slow the flow of the wash and protect its banks from erosion.

The work has helped improve water quality at Lake Mead and bring back wetlands that thrived along the wash in the 1970s.

Leavitt said nearly 300 species of birds and more than 70 species of mammals and reptiles have since been spotted within Wetlands Park.

There are coyotes, rabbits, bats, snakes, raccoons and the occasional bobcat.

Beavers are plentiful, requiring maintenance workers to fence any shade trees they would like to keep and regularly dismantle dams in the park’s specially engineered ponds.

The Nature Center was funded mostly with proceeds from the sale of federal land in Clark County. The 30,000-square-foot building also includes a cafe, 100-seat auditorium, information center, classrooms, meeting space and administrative offices for the Wetlands Park’s small staff and dedicated army of about 60 volunteers.

Kety Allred, design and construction administrator for the county, said the center incorporates a variety of eco-friendly building techniques that should earn it gold certification, the second-highest rating given by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The lights and mechanical systems are energy efficient, the urinals are waterless, the walls are insulated with shredded denim from old blue jeans, and the flooring and cabinets are made from sustainable woods and recycled materials.

The entire building stands on concrete stilts that lift it above the flood-prone property, a design that has already passed its first test. Leavitt said staff members moved into the administrative offices on Sept. 10, "and we had a foot and a half of water under the building on the 11th of September."

Right now, Leavitt is one of just two full-time employees, but there are plans to add one more full-time and three more part-time workers in the coming weeks.

Once it opens some time before the start of summer – and that’s the best estimate Leavitt said she could offer at this point – the Nature Center will operate from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week.

Admission will be free.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

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