Tule Springs monument in North Las Vegas to get first walking trail

Hikers will soon be able to traverse the same open desert land where Columbian mammoths, saber-toothed cats and other prehistoric creatures once roamed.

The Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in North Las Vegas will get its first walking trail, spanning nearly 2 miles near the future site of the Villages at Tule Springs, a sprawling master-planned community.

“The No. 1 question I get from people is where they can go to walk at the Tule Springs monument, and I never had an answer,” said Jill DeStefano, president of the Protectors of Tule Springs, a community activist group that helped to create the trail.

“To finally be able to talk about this first trail is really exciting,” DeStefano added. “I think it’s just the start.”

Eventually, North Fifth Street will be extended north of the 215 Beltway to access the national park. Nearby, housing developer KBS Capital Advisors will spend $5 million to build access roads, a parking lot and a 10,000-foot-long path known as the Tufa Trail — named for the type of limestone naturally found in the area.

The developer will then give the trailhead to North Las Vegas, under a three-way deal involving KBS, the city and the National Park Service, which oversees the fossil beds. The Park Service will set aside three easements to let visitors cross onto the trail while the city lays utility lines.

Although an agreement was signed during a brief ceremony held Monday afternoon, the North Las Vegas City Council will formally vote on the pact Wednesday night.

“This is an urban national monument, and it needs an urban entrance,” North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee said. “This historical site is a unique asset that we in North Las Vegas are extremely proud of, and with our new trail and trailhead, we are excited to share it with the world.”

Monday’s announcement came two years to the day that President Barack Obama signed a massive package of legislation that included the creation of the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, spanning 22,650 acres at the Las Vegas Valley’s northern edge.

The legislation was rolled into an annual defense authorization bill that Congress approved, but that didn’t include funding to build trails or other amenities at the fossil beds.

The land is Nevada’s only national monument, known for a diverse mix of fossils and bones spanning the past quarter-million years. The hills, between Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, have yielded rich evidence of extinct mammoths, horses, camels and other animals.

Establishing a trail, officials said, will help keep hikers on an established path while preserving vital paleontological resources.

“Largely, this agreement is about protecting park resources so that they’re here, not only for this generation, but for every single generation that follows,” said Jon Burpee, the National Park Service’s superintendent of Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument.

It was unclear when work will start on the Tufa Trail. However, plans are underway to build more walking paths and possibly a visitor’s center to provide a detailed history of the area.

Construction is expected to start next year on the Villages at Tule Springs, the largest housing development in North Las Vegas since the start of the economic recession. The project, to be built in several villages, will span nearly 2,000 acres and include about 8,700 residences.

“We’ve moved the bar forward in the spirit of ultimately developing an asset that will be the pride of North Las Vegas and the pride of KBS,” said Brian Ragsdale, executive vice president for KBS Capital Advisors.

“We’re protecting this very valuable asset that we have in the monument and the fossils contained here, but still giving access to the public,” Ragsdale added. “It moves me on a personal level.”

Contact Art Marroquin at amarroquin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Find @AMarroquin_LV on Twitter.

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