Spring Mountain Visitor Gateway more than ‘just’ a visitor center

New attraction captures, educates before visitors leave their cars

InteriorHENDERSON, Nev. – The Spring Mountain Visitor Gateway, already open to the public, encompasses 90 acres of Forest Service land and serves as both a gateway to and an orientation for the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (SMNRA), while also functioning as a destination for families in the Las Vegas community.

The project opened without fanfare, yet represents the culmination of five years of work coordinated by Las Vegas-based architecture firm, LGA. Built on a now-defunct golf course that had badly damaged the site, the Spring Mountain Visitor Gateway acts as an urban interface to connect city dwellers with the unique ecosystem of Mt. Charleston and SMNRA.

The Visitor Gateway begins with transition zones leading to the forest, starting with a rest stop-like area near the highway that provides travelers with a place for a quick picnic or break. Next, visitors can experience the interpretive gallery in the Visitor Center. The third level includes the Gateway, an education facility and open plaza that connects to trails leading into the Valley. The Visitor Center and education building are both designed to deliver an inside-outside experience, creating a natural, holistic feel that honors the landscape.

“Many city folk head to the mountains, but don’t know the rules,” said Craig Galati, president of LGA. “A lot of people drive to Mt. Charleston, look around from their car, and drive back home because they’re not sure what to do. They don’t know where the trails are, how challenging they are or how long. We hope to capture these people and educate them so they understand what opportunities exist on the mountain. And if they don’t want to go further than the visitor center, they can get a full mountain experience right there.”

The Gateway also honors the Paiute people, who hold Mt. Charleston as their ancestral birthplace. The Seven Stones Plaza was designed to represent the seven different nations, and the creation story is told through subtly etched images that surround the large center stone. Tribal families are invited to harvest pine nuts to maintain their seasonal tradition.

“Prior to this project, there had never been an orientation to Mt. Charleston or SMNRA,” said Deborah Bergin, LGA’s project manager for the Spring Mountain Visitor Gateway. This led to overuse of the areas that were more easily accessible, such as Cathedral Rock, without an understanding of the impact on the surrounding ecosystem.

“By repurposing an already heavily disrupted area for the Spring Mountain Visitor Gateway, we’ll actually alleviate overuse in other areas,” explained Galati, whose architectural firm has built a reputation as pioneers of eco-smart designs and green building methods. In fact, the firm is best known for designing the Platinum LEED-Certified Desert Living Center & Gardens at the Springs Preserve as well as for their work on the LEED-certified Springs Preserve master plan. In importance to the community, Galati likened the Spring Mountain Visitor Gateway to the Springs Preserve.

“Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which is on the other side of the same mountain range, had to start charging admission in an effort to slow down visitation, as the heavy volume was having a negative impact,” Galati said. “For Mt. Charleston, there’s no entry charge to go on the property, and the Visitor Center will help protect Spring Mountain by properly directing and educating visitors.”

Ultimately, the concept of the Spring Mountain Visitor Center is based around community.

“We like to do transformational work,” Bergin said. “We’re teaching people from Las Vegas to love the mountain. My hope is that in five to 10 years they will become stewards and take ownership. If that happens, we will have accomplished our goals.”

Established in 1986, LGA is a cross-disciplinary, client-centered consulting firm that brings together the disciplines of architecture, sociology and sustainability using a collaborative, participatory and community-based process. Best known for its work on the LEED-certified Springs Preserve master plan and one of only a handful of Platinum LEED-certified buildings in the world, the Desert Living Center at the Springs Preserve, LGA has been a longtime advocate of green design and green living.

For more information on LGA, call 702-263-7111 or visit lgainc.com.