Embracing Challenges As Opportunities

significant damage to the natural desert environment. Also, Whitney Mesa had been used for years as an illegal dumping ground for appliances and vehicles. In fact, 14 abandoned vehicles were removed as the project moved forward. Work also included restoration of the desert and the strategic placement of barriers to help prevent future damage to desert flora and fauna. 

Tailoring Amenities

Staff members knew the importance of designing park elements while being mindful of the mesa’s sensitivity. So instead of fighting the mesa’s slopes, the park’s soft surface trails follow the natural grades. An archery range is positioned against the mesa so it can be used as a backstop. Pedestrian trail connections between the park’s playground amenities and the tennis complex required special planning to ensure proper draining and safe access throughout the area. 

The much-requested tennis complex was designed in coordination with the United States Tennis Association, which provided guidance on court sizes and layouts. Although the standard court size is 78 feet long by 36 feet wide, the city also incorporated four “10 and Under” courts, which are 36 feet long by 18 feet wide. The latter courts were designed to engage children in that age range by using special equipment, shorter court dimensions, and modified scoring. The tennis complex also has backboards for individual play and practice, a concession area, and a power source on each court for ball machines or musical players. Ample shaded viewing areas for players and spectators are also appreciated at the city’s largest bank of public tennis courts. 

Building in the desert usually involves concerns about the harsh, dry soil. And although the soil type at Whitney Mesa wouldn’t be preferred for construction projects, it proved to be ideal for constructing the BMX area’s tracks and jumps. The amenity—the  first of its kind for the city—also features an automated start gate, pump track, wall ride, announcer’s stand, picnic area, and oversized vehicle parking. 

A Hint Of History

The site’s history also played a critical role in its development. In researching Whitney Mesa, city staff learned that in 1829-1830, trader Antonio Armijo apparently stopped to rest in the area as he, his 60-member caravan, and 100 mules made their way across the Mojave Desert from New Mexico to Southern California to trade Mexican wool for horses and mules. It is believed that Armijo and his party used three campsites near Whitney Mesa. His journey was the first successful round trip on the Old Spanish Trail, and served to open trade between Mexico and California. 

In documenting his journey, Armijo wrote in his journal about the many Native Americans he met along the way, noting they seemed to be docile and curious. While there is no evidence of sensitive cultural artifacts in the Whitney Mesa area, city staff still felt it was important to pay tribute to the area’s rich history. In honor of Armijo, a day camp was built bearing his name that features an outdoor amphitheater, archery range, picnic area, and tent pads. The camp can be reserved by scouts and other user groups throughout the year. It is tucked away behind the aquatic complex, which provides several programming opportunities for the city’s parks and recreation department. 

In a nod to the Native Americans Armijo may have met in his travels, decorative wickiups, based on domed dwellings used by some nomadic cultures, were fabricated and installed at the camp. These strategically placed play structures have already proven to be a favorite among park users. The playground, too, features a similar theme with its pioneer and Paiute-themed look and amenities, including a play stagecoach and horse. 

Preservation For The Future

Funding for the $14.1-million project was received through a grant from the Bureau of Land Management as authorized by the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act (SNPLMA). Henderson has received more than $238 million in SNPLMA funding over the last decade for parks, trails, and open-space projects to benefit the community and keep pace with growth. 

By embracing challenges as opportunities, the city of Henderson has delivered one of its most innovative parks to its residents. Blending the natural environment with its rich history gives Whitney Mesa Recreation Area a touch of the past with a focus on preservation for the future. 

Kim Becker is the Marketing & Communications Supervisor for the city of Henderson. Reach her at Kim.Becker@cityofhenderson.com.

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