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Sunset Park among public projects nearing completion

Three major Clark County parks and recreation projects are in their final stages, and residents can look forward to new and improved versions of prominent county amenities.

SUNSET PARK

Sunset Park, 2601 E. Sunset Road, is one of the oldest and largest county parks in the Las Vegas Valley. It was a ranch that had been carved out of the Paradise Dunes when the county acquired it in 1967. Over the years, additional amenities were added piecemeal, and this several-year, multi-phase renovation aims to shift things around to make it a more useful and sensible design.

"Really, what this does is tie it all together and make it one integrated park," said Steve Corry, assistant director of the Clark County Parks and Recreation Department.

For example, a grassy lawn near the department offices was isolated from the rest of the park by buildings, bushes and a road and was thus under-utilized. The renovation converted that area to parking and returned the old parking area to a lawn connected to the larger grassy areas.

The aging pool at the park has been closed for three years. It has been replaced with one of three new picnic areas near the park’s lake. Each of these has a large concrete pad and picnic tables. Some of the last elements to be constructed will be large gazebo structures to provide shade over these pads. Each gazebo/picnic area will also have a bounce house pad. The pads are designated grassy areas with recessed anchor points under covers flush with the lawn. An electrical outlet is nearby to operate the inflation equipment.

Instead of a pool, the renovated park will have a water splash pad integrated with a large, tree house-themed playground.

Several large trees have been added, and they look well-established already. Newcomers to the park would think they had been there all along, Corry said.

A small stage has been added near the east side of the lake with nearby tables.

The dog park has already been shifted to the south section of the park along Warm Springs Road.

The overall effect of all the shifting and hardscape construction has been to make room around the lake for picnics and group activities and to provide room for other activities away from the lake. A section of the lake near the west-side boat launch is already open, and even though the weather is cool, fishermen were hauling fish out of the stocked lake and people were feeding the waterfowl Dec. 5.

"The construction has taken a little longer than it might have because we kept parts of the park open so that people could still enjoy it," Corry said. "We’ll probably open up the park around the northwest side of the lake before the end of December."

Corry said that for the most part, it’s just a matter of finishing touches now, and the park should be completely open and running early in 2013, with a grand opening probably in the early spring.

"We’ll have the lake open for the RC boaters very soon. I get calls asking about that nearly every day," Corry said. "We’ll be able to hold the Renaissance fair here again this year."

WINCHESTER CULTURAL CENTER

The Winchester Cultural Center, 3130 S. McLeod Drive, opened in 1982 as the Winchester Recreation Center. In the early ’90s, when the Department of Cultural Affairs was formed, the center gained its current appellation, and the gymnasium was converted to a theater.

The heavily utilized center is getting a long-overdue makeover with new carpets, air conditioning and a new fire alarm system. It’s also getting a new dance studio.

"The old dance room was hard on the dancers; the floor was basically concrete," said Patrick Gaffey, cultural program supervisor. "The new dance studio is designed for dancing with a suspended base covered with (a special non-skid padding dancing surface)."

Gaffey anticipates the work will be completed and the room open for business within a month. When the work inside is complete, construction is set to begin on a new restroom, near the center’s skate park.

"We’ve needed that for a long time," Gaffey said. "That’s going to be a huge improvement for us."

CLARK COUNTY WETLANDS PARK

The decade-old Wetlands Park, 7050 Wetlands Park Lane, is one of the newer amenities in the valley but one of the most unusual and striking. The 2,900-acre park is the largest in the county, with miles of trails and rich, native greenery fed by the Las Vegas Wash. It is an unrivaled spot in the valley for viewing wildlife, including numerous unusual birds that stop at the oasis while migrating.

Since the park’s inception, the staff has operated out of manufactured housing that doubled as a visitors center. When the new center opens in 2013, it will be in a building that showcases and highlights the natural beauty around it.

"The building was built on stilts so you can experience the wetlands in a different way," said Wetlands Park coordinator Elsie Sellars. "The new visitors center puts you right in the middle of it but raised up so you can look down into the wetlands."

Currently, the administrative building is doubling as a visitors center. The administrative building includes offices, a conference room, storage rooms, a large classroom that can be divided into two rooms, an equipment room and a volunteer room.

The park operates with a staff of two and is seeking to fill a third position. Much of the work is done by volunteers. The park has around 50 volunteers, and the new administration building has enough lockers to serve 100.

The buildings are completed and work is underway to fill them with exhibits, a café, a book and nature store and a large exhibit gallery. The first building visitors will come to when the center opens in the next few months is the welcome center.

"This will be open to the insulation to highlight the green features of the building," Sellars said, pointing to an open square on the cement wall. "It will be sealed off with Plexiglas. It’s what’s called a ‘truth window,’ and you’ll be able to see the insulation material, shredded blue jeans."

Art will be an important feature, and Sellars said sculptures of ducks would be suspended from the ceiling.

An auditorium is already in use and has been utilized by several groups. This room can also be divided into two. After the visitors center’s grand opening, a 12-minute film about the park will be shown in the auditorium every 15 minutes.

The café room has a dining area and an orientation area where visitors can relax on couches while watching six screens with live streaming video from around the park. They also hope to record nighttime footage from the same cameras to see nocturnal animals, including the park’s bank beavers.

The showcase building is to be the exhibit gallery. Visitors will enter a room with a desk shared by staff members who will introduce them to exhibits and a book/nature store. Six-foot insect structures will move along tracks on the ceiling. The insects will be solar-powered by collectors on top of the staff parking area.

To one side of the building, a window opens onto a laboratory. The room is designed to allow visitors a glimpse at the science that has been conducted regularly at the park.

"We contract with numerous experts to collect data in the park," Sellars said. "There are studies on mammals, birds, water quality, vectors (including the park’s active mosquito management program). All those things have previously been done on the back of the researchers’ pickup trucks."

Around 15 miles of new trails are under construction, and Sellars said most would be completed by the end of the summer. Several of the trails will lead to or pass through areas where the Southern Nevada Water Authority is constructing weirs and erosion control structures. That project is expected to be completed in 2015 and will include finishing some small trail segments in the construction areas. Sellars said the park will boast between 40 and 50 miles of trails when completed.

Sellars said that although the opening date for the visitors center has been pushed back several times, she’s confident it will be completely open to the public this summer and hopes it will be open this spring.

"We’re so excited about it," Sellars said. "What we can do for the community is endless."

For more information about Wetlands Park, call 702-455-7522.

Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

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