It’s time for lawmakers to act on establishing the Fossil Beds National Monument in North Las Vegas.
Not only would the designation protect an area that has been found to be an unexpected treasure trove of ice age fossils, but the effort would diversify Southern Nevada’s tourism economy with a nearby educational resource that would be used and appreciated by generations to come.
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to a group supporting the establishment of the monument, the Tule Springs Coalition, by sharing some of the economic benefits of a National Park Service operation for a community. But it turned out that I was the one who received the education, as Dr. Stephen Rowland, a geosciences professor at UNLV, gave an overview of what’s at the 30,000-acre site along the Upper Las Vegas Wash.
The National Geographic Society in 1962 and the San Bernardino County Museum in California more recently have confirmed the existence of the single-largest known assemblage of ice age fossils in the Southwest at the site, from 7,000 to 250,000 years old.
While Las Vegas will be known forever for its entertainment and neon lights, more people are taking notice of our outdoor attractions near the city.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is projecting that 40 million people will visit Southern Nevada in 2012. According to the LVCVA’s 2011 Visitor Profile study, which examines tourist spending habits, the vast majority of visitors predictably spend most of their time and money on the Strip or in downtown Las Vegas gambling, shopping and attending shows.
But 13 percent took time to explore the outdoors. While it is a small percentage, that still represents 5.2 million people.
The LVCVA’s research says on an average trip to Southern Nevada, visitors spend just $10.24 of the $757.83 in their nongaming spending budgets for sightseeing. But that’s OK. They have to eat, and the LVCVA estimates that $274.69 is spent on food and drink, which is up significantly from 2007, 2008 and 2010.
The big takeaway is that our visitors are paying more attention to the outdoor attractions around Las Vegas, and they’re spending more than they did prior to the recession for sightseeing, food and beverages.
The National Park Service also has been paying close attention to the spending impact on local communities, but for different reasons.
A 2006 report prepared for the National Parks Conservation Association and a 2011 report for the National Park Service offered similar conclusions: National parks and monuments have a positive economic impact on their surrounding communities.
The 2006 report, by the private consulting firm of Hardner & Gullison Associates, concluded that national parks generate $4 in public value for every dollar invested.
The report said national parks attract businesses and individuals to the local area, resulting in economic growth in regions near parks that is an average of 1 percent per year greater than statewide rates over the past three decades.
The 2011 report, by the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies at Michigan State University, not only analyzed spending from visitors, but included the impact of park employee salaries.
That report said the National Park System received 281 million recreational visits in 2010 and that park visitors spent $12.13 billion in local gateway regions. Half of the spending was for lodging and meals, 19 percent for gas and local transportation, 10 percent for amusements, 8 percent for groceries and 13 percent for other retail purchases.
The national monument designation isn’t without some controversy. NV Energy has identified a corridor for a transmission line within the boundaries of the property.
“Our current proposal allows for the co-existence of both the national monument area and NV Energy’s transmission lines, while minimizing the impact to the valuable resources in the Upper Las Vegas Wash,” a representative of NV Energy said in a statement. “The proposed lines specifically address future requirements for system reliability, expansion of the electrical system in the northern part of the valley and the Apex industrial area, and the development of renewable resources.”
Clearly, some compromise will be necessary. For Southern Nevada, that would create a win-win-win situation. We preserve our past. We diversify our economy for the present. We invest in educational opportunities for our future.
The time is right.