Friday, Feb. 12, 2010 | 3 a.m.
Will an area north of Las Vegas be designated the nation’s newest national monument?
President Barack Obama could win a measure of tourism redemption in Southern Nevada by taking action.
We may find out within a few weeks if Nevada’s congressional delegation introduces legislation to establish Fossil Beds National Monument (some are calling it Tule Springs National Monument) on up to 30,000 acres along the Upper Las Vegas Wash.
Supporters say the national monument designation would be a great tourism boost for Southern Nevada. But what might be surprising is that a study shows establishing the monument would diversify the economy.
The area under consideration is a treasure trove of paleontological fossils from an ice age.
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, ranging from 7,000 to 200,000 years old.
The area also supports four unique and imperiled plants, some protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The Upper Las Vegas Wash provides important habitat for the threatened desert tortoise, burrowing owls, kit foxes and other wildlife species that are protected under the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
The boost to tourism is a no-brainer. Millions of people visit national parks, monuments and recreation areas every year. One of the nation’s most-visited recreation areas is Lake Mead National Recreation Area, south of Las Vegas, that 7.9 million people visited in 2009.
As is the case in all protected Park Service land, visitors would be able to view fossils, but not dig them up. At Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, for example, there are strict rules against removing any rocks from the park.
The Park Service occasionally enlists archaeologists to research protected lands, another potential economic benefit since teams would be staying in the area.
On the other side, one of the nation’s least-visited national parks is a treasure on Nevada’s eastern border, the Great Basin National Park, about a five-hour drive from Las Vegas. Great Basin has mountains and glaciers, incredible views of the desert and an underground surprise — the Lehman Caves.
A portion of Death Valley National Park on the state’s border with California also lies within Nevada. Although not your typical summer vacation park, Death Valley is quite popular in the winter and spring, and this year it should have some fantastic blooms thanks to the abundance of rain the area has received.
In 2008, the nation’s 391 parks, monuments, recreation areas and other designated federal lands drew 275 million visitors spending an estimated $11.6 billion. That averages out to $42.18 per visitor per trip.
As diverse as Nevada’s outdoors is, it’s somewhat surprising it has no national monuments. Lehman Caves used to be a national monument before it was expanded to include the mountains around it and it was transformed into a national park.
According to the Web site nationalatlas.gov, a national monument is intended to preserve at least one nationally significant resource. It is usually smaller than a national park and lacks its diversity of attractions.
“As directed by the secretary of the Interior, many national monuments established in recent years are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorized the president to declare by public proclamation landmarks, structures and other objects of historic or scientific interest situated on lands owned or controlled by the government to be national monuments,” the site says.
Arizona has the most national monuments of the 50 states with 18. New Mexico has 12 and California 10.
As a former resident of northern Arizona, I can vouch for the popularity of the monuments near Flagstaff.
Within an easy hour’s drive of Flagstaff are Sunset Crater National Monument, an extinct volcanic cinder cone; Wupatki National Monument, a well-preserved dwelling of the ancient Sinagua people near Sunset Crater; Walnut Canyon National Monument, another set of Indian ruins in a scenic canyon near town; and Montezuma Castle, pueblo ruins that have been compared with Colorado’s Mesa Verde for their preservation.
Our national parks are a resource often ignored, but be assured that millions of people purchase annual passes to visit them every year. I did years ago when I traveled across the country, driving from park to monument from coast to coast.
The Park Service, recognizing that some people enjoy learning about their country by visiting parks and monuments, sells park passport books that you stamp every time you visit another park. They include the name of the park and the date. My passport has about 20 entries, only because I purchased it after having visited about 60 others.
Fossil Beds National Monument would certainly draw national attention, and once people arrive, they’ll see that Las Vegas has other outdoor wonders on the edge of town, such as Mount Charleston, Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park.
But the diversification of the local economy as a result of the national monument is the other story.
An Applied Analysis report on the economic impact of tourism on Southern Nevada says that industry supports 178,800 jobs and $9 billion in wage and salary payments directly.
Indirectly, it supports 380,000 jobs, $13.4 billion in wages and salaries and $43 billion in economic activity. That’s because when people visit parks, they will stay in motels, hotels, cabins and bed-and-breakfasts. Of the average $42.18 they spend, more than half is for lodging, 17 percent is for gasoline and local transportation, 9 percent for groceries and 14 percent for souvenirs.
Applied Analysis said that for every 10,000 national park visits, 7.5 jobs are created, $160,000 in wage and salaries are paid and $251,000 in economic activity is generated. That’s some kind of stimulus package.
Although the state’s congressional delegation can propose the designation, national monument status can be made by executive order.
With all the harping that has occurred over Obama’s questionable comments about Las Vegas, shouldn’t our delegation instead be calling on the president to act with an executive order? That could certainly make him a little more popular in Southern Nevada and would present a “makeup call” for his remarks.
With the state contemplating closing state parks, residents could use a little good news from the federal government on the tourism front.
The Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon in December turned out to be one of the biggest local tourism success stories of 2009 as well a big blast for competitive running.
San Diego-based Competitor Group, sponsor of the marathon, recently released a study by the San Diego State University Sports MBA program showing that the Dec. 6 event generated an estimated $64.5 million for the local economy.
The sold-out event had nearly 28,000 runners from every state and 39 countries, and 37,856 people came from outside Clark County.
The study said marathon visitors stayed an average 3.18 nights, generating 55,000 room nights and budgeted $12.5 million for gambling.
For the runners, the event closed the Strip in both directions for the first time in history, and the race grew by more than 10,199 finishers — 132 percent higher than the 2008 event and the largest year-over-year change of any road race in the United States.
Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson said the marathon contributed to the biggest December weekend in the city’s history. NASCAR Champions Week and the National Finals Rodeo were going on at the same time.
Peter Englehart, CEO of the Competitor Group, which owns and operates 36 national events and publishes magazines promoting running, cycling and triathlon, said the success of last year’s event bodes well for its future, and there’s potential to make it even bigger this year and beyond.
In last week’s print edition of In Business Las Vegas, the tourism column reported that the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority had some regional television ad buys during the Super Bowl. Actually, the TV spots were purchased for the days preceding the game, but not during the Super Bowl itself.
Richard N. Velotta covers tourism, technology and small business for In Business Las Vegas and its sister publication, the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at 259-4061 or at [email protected]