Vegas Verdes: Gallinas River Park Renewal

Published October 20, 2019 in the Las Vegas Optic.

The restoration of the Gallinas River in Las Vegas and the revival of its park began with the gem of an idea in the imagination of some Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance (HPWA) visionaries. The idea became a grand plan, having educational, recreational, and physical renewal components. In the past several months, the execution of the plan has progressed and the results are inspiring. Between having an idea and implementing it, many steps are necessary. In 2014 – 15, HPWA leadership approached various governmental and quasi-governmental agencies and not-for-profit organizations and presented the idea. It was generally received with enthusiasm, sometimes guarded, but there nonetheless.

The Las Vegas/San Miguel Economic Development Corporation (LVSMEDC) lent support and labor to promote the idea. HPWA conducted a city-wide survey that reached many Las Vegas neighborhoods and surrounding areas and it also organized and promoted several public meetings. From the survey and the meetings emerged the beginnings of a vision for the Park. Finally, HPWA and LVSMEDC identified and recruited interested individuals and representatives of government entities and community organizations who could and would take the lead to guide the park renewal efforts. This ad hoc committee of dedicated persons eventually became the Gallinas River Park Collaborative (GRPC).

The search for funds began soon – even before the GRPC arose – for the process of procuring money can be slow and laborious. An early attempt to secure funds from a USDA Rural Development Program failed, but several other sources came through with large and small amounts. A small grant from the Santa Fe Community Foundation in 2018 underwrote a year-long educational program at West Las Vegas High School in which students learned about the ecology of rivers and importance of wetlands. The result was excited and motivated young people. They, using donated materials and taking expert advice from teachers and others, designed and built two interpretive signs and installed them near the river walk downstream from Bridge Street. The students’ work has meant that funding for five more such signs was much easier to secure. Organizations with money to give away are more readily convinced of the value of your project if they can see and touch what the funds will buy.

A year ago, the National Endowment for the Arts granted $45,000 to conduct a three-day work shop for the citizens of Las Vegas. It was led by Citizens Institute for Rural Design and billed as a listening operation. Great effort went into insuring that attendees represented all parts of the town and its environs. The West Las Vegas High School students participated and from their recently acquired knowledge could offer useful insights. A broad consensus emerged from this community discussion and the result was a conceptual design of the future river park with the restored river at its heart.

Meanwhile, the HPWA applied for funds from the New Mexico Environment Department’s River Stewardship Program. It received an award of $315,000 to begin river restoration and storm water treatment and that work is nearly complete. The river work involved returning meanders to the previously channeled river and adding riffles, falls, and pools.

It was completed on a one third mile stretch downriver from Bridge Street. Rainwater gardens have been built to treat storm water run-off. The gardens will collect the run-off before it reaches the river, and filter out impurities, contaminates and rubbish. Three of these gardens have been placed in the West Las Vegas High School parking lots. A continuing enterprise undertaken by the HPWA and the GRPC is the annual Riverfest. Three have so far been staged and well-received. The “fest” is used as a setting to educate and entertain with the hope that attendees will carry away intent to care for and enjoy the river. An assortment of Las Vegas businesses and organizations has contributed funds for this event.

Now in late 2019, two small projects are underway using volunteer labor, donated materials, and some professional assistance. A permanent kiosk located on the south side of Bridge Street and between the river walk and the river will provide a center for information about park goings-on and community activities. The Las Vegas Master Gardeners Association and the LV Garden Club are landscaping the small area in which the kiosk stands. The next step is critical funding from three different government entities has been promised for the preparation of a construction ready architectural and engineering design for the Gallinas River Park between Mills and Prince/Independence. Such a design plan is required before applying for funds to build and install the park amenities.

When questioned about the park, all insist on the preeminent necessity of trash cans. The cost of trash cans, however, astounds most of us. Public use trash receptacles must be sturdy, locked in place, and designed to admit trash but not wild-life. Given those requirements, the $1,000 per installed can (about the best price possible) really shouldn’t be such a surprise. The west students were the first to raise funds to purchase one receptacle. Are there not numerous groups, organizations, or individuals who might take on a similar task? The Collaborative hopes you –whoever you are – will step forward soon.

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