It was a bright, sunny, and (thankfully) slightly cool Spring Day in Las Vegas when I joined some of my new colleagues from SH Architecture at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge for a morning of planting native trees. Located some 10 miles from the NW edge of the Las Vegas Valley, and about 5 miles up a gravel road from US-95, the Refuge center at Corn Creek is undergoing building renovations and habitat regeneration to turn it into another excellent outdoor amenity for Southern Nevada.
The Corn Creek Center is the main access point and hub of the Range, providing visitors with information on the wildlife, habitat, campsites, hiking trails and access roads in the vast area to the North of the Las Vegas Valley. I had been there only once before, on an off-roading expedition with friends, following Mormon Well Road (an old established trail) from the desert floor on the west side, up over the mountains, through Joshua Tree forests into groves of Juniper and Pine, then descending again on the East side of the Range where we joined the US-93 in the East.
The group of volunteers met at the Center at 9am on Friday, dressed and prepared to get dirty. We were met by Jose Witt from Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Matt Flores from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Mark, a long-time volunteer, who were to be our team leaders and instructors for the morning. Our mission was to plant 35 trees in various locations around the facility – all Native species of Mesquites – to assist with the restoration of the land from desolate former pasture to future native desert. The trees had been donated for the project which was a grateful benefit to the landscape.
The crew of SH Volunteers attacked the project with great gusto, digging holes, unpotting the trees and planting them according to Matt’s instructions. Some were planted along an old irrigation ditch, others were given a new home out in the former pasture, and a lucky few were planted under the bigger, established trees near the stream that runs from the natural springs.
As we moved around from location to location, Jose and Matt told us about the natural springs that feed the oasis; how they’re part of the underground spring system that links with Floyd Lamb State Park and the original Las Vegas Springs that first attracted the indigenous peoples, then the European settlers to the Las Vegas valley. They talked about the native flora and fauna in the area, and how the removal of non-native plants and reintroduction of native species (like the trees we were planting) will benefit the area.
Having completed our mission, we all gathered under a tree for a pot-luck picnic lunch. Enjoying a feast of fried chicken, potato and macaroni salads, salsa, fruit and baked goods, we had more than enough so we invited Jose, Matt and Dave to join us, along with the ladies from the visitor center and a couple of the maintenance crew. It was a fun, entertaining and educational experience for everyone, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time we visit the area. I know I’ll be back…