At the southwestern edge of Henderson, a fresh ribbon of pavement meanders up the hill to a parking lot with sweeping views of mountains, desert and the growing city.
A trailer at the site offers maps and information about the area, and a hiking trail in a nearby wash leads into a canyon covered in ancient rock art.
More than 13 years after it was created, Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area finally has its first paved access road and other amenities.
The Bureau of Land Management hosted a dedication ceremony at the site Thursday. The new Nawghaw Poa Road and visitor contact station officially open to the public on Friday.
So what took so long?
“We really needed to wait until the city got a little closer to us,” said Robbie McAboy, BLM’s manager of the conservation area. “We were miles and miles and miles away from Henderson. Now the city is less than a mile away from us.”
And it seems to be getting closer by the minute. Directly north and east of the 48,438-acre conservation area are streets, parks and housing tracts too new to show up on Google Maps.
Right now, Nawghaw Poa Road branches off from an unpaved track that in just a few months is expected to become a paved extension of Democracy Drive.
McAboy said the time had come for the BLM to have more of a presence at Sloan Canyon and to provide better public access to the heart of the area, which draws an estimated 80,000 visitors a year.
“We want people to come and enjoy the area, and we want them to do so responsibly,” she said.
To that end, the agency has hired a law enforcement ranger, a park ranger and an outdoor recreation planner who will be dedicated to Sloan Canyon. Members of the nonprofit Friends of Sloan Canyon and other local conservation groups have stepped up to help staff the new contact station.
Sander Smiles is one of the volunteers who will be greeting visitors and monitoring trails in the area. He dismissed the argument that the only way to protect such a rich cultural site is to restrict access.
“People are going to get to it one way or another. If you build houses all around it, it’s going to be inevitable, so manage the risk,” Smiles said.
Thursday’s dedication included a blessing in the Southern Paiute language from tribal elder Bud Meyer. The Paiutes also helped name the new road. McAboy said Nawghaw Poa means “mountain sheep trail” in Paiute.
In the coming months, the BLM plans to replace the portable restrooms at the site with flush toilets. In a few years, a permanent visitor center will be built in place of the trailer housing the contact station, McAboy said.
Money shouldn’t be an issue. When it was designated by Congress in 2002, the conservation area was seeded with $63 million from the sale of federal land at Henderson’s southern edge. That interest-bearing endowment fund still contains more than $60 million even after $1.4 million was spent on the road project and another $9 million went for new trails, signs, studies and planning documents, McAboy said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversaw the construction of the road and separate, paved bicycle lane. The city of Henderson provided design services for the project.
Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen could barely contain his excitement during the dedication.
“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s been worth it, don’t you think?” he said.
From now until Sept. 30, the new road and contact station will be open only from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The road will be blocked with a gate on the other days of the week until Oct. 1, when it will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day through next May.
Contact Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350. Find @RefriedBrean on Twitter.