Neon Eden

Downtown desperately needs more trails, but don’t hold your breath

Everyone seems to agree Downtown needs more trails. No one seems to know where the money’s going to come from to accomplish that.
Photo: Leila Navidi

Last week I ripped Downtown for its parks, which are nonexistent or inadequate. I may have gone a little easy.

I referred to Justice Myron E. Leavitt and Jaycee Community Park as “the real deal,” by which I merely meant that it’s a real park with grass and stuff, and it’s close to Downtown. One astute commenter finds it sorely lacking: “It is nearly unusable for children due to vagrancy, insalubrity and bad or no lighting after dark.” (Insalubrity is a great word I confess I had to look up, meaning unwholesome.)

The city says the long-range plan calls for a series of Downtown pocket parks connected by pedestrian-friendly corridors and trails.

Trails, you ask?

Even people who live here—and especially people who don’t—often forget that Vegas is more than heat and concrete. We haven’t done the best job preserving it, but this desert oasis has some unmatched natural beauty. The suburban areas of the city of Las Vegas, specifically near Summerlin, are filled with great trails, but people often seem not to know about them. Outdoor enthusiasts and conservationists hope to eventually build the Vegas Valley Rim Trail, which would be a 100-mile loop around the Valley, connecting Red Rock Canyon, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Mead and Gypsum Ridge.

A key problem is the way our parks, trails and conservation efforts are funded: The Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act calls for a portion of federal land sales to go to these efforts. That river of cash dried up with the real estate collapse. (And let’s appreciate how weird it is to be funding conservation efforts with federal land sales that encouraged unchecked suburban sprawl.)

“Now that that money has dried up, no one knows what the future holds,” says Rae Lathrop, who does outreach for Outside Las Vegas Foundation. “Everyone has great plans; now we must work together on finding ways to continue funding them.”

Long neglected, Downtown has fewer trails than the rest of the Valley. Our geography—valley surrounded by a ring of mountains—makes it understandable that our best trails would be on the outskirts of town, but this state of affairs should be fixed, at least bringing some parity.

(On its official trail map, the city includes Fremont Street Experience as a “trail.” Sure, and Glitter Gulch is a park, right?)

I like the city’s idea—at this point little more than a pipe dream—of connecting small parks Downtown via trails, so I had Lathrop take me to a couple trails close to the urban core.

We started at the recently completed Las Vegas Wash trail off of Lamb Boulevard on the east side of town. A giant mural tells a comforting allegory about immigration, depicting a friendly space alien. Unfortunately, it had been tagged with graffiti.

Following the recent rains, the wash was filled with lush green. For obvious safety reasons, you can’t walk in the wash, but strolling alongside on the footpath was pleasant, even as the morning heat began to rise. This trail will be connected to the North Las Vegas Wash Trail and will run south all the way to the Wetlands Park by Sam Boyd Stadium for a total of 30 miles.

Another trail highlight near Downtown is the Pioneer Trail at the Springs Preserve, which is well known, but we were intrigued by a trail that, according to the map, runs alongside Highway 95 from the east side of the city to Downtown. At Eastern and the 95, we parked at a Winchell’s, the smell of fried dough enchanting. The trail is more of a trail than the Fremont Street Experience, though not by much. In some parts, it’s a paved path alongside the highway, and at other places it seems like an alley, although we couldn’t always tell. At various moments, though, you could peer down it and imagine a stream of cyclists commuting to work Downtown at least nine months per year.

It empties out around Sixth and Mesquite, which is near the old city hall and some empty lots. A perfect place for a Downtown Park.

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