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Exploring Springs Preserve

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Las Vegas is synonymous with overconsumption, so it might surprise you that one of the most sustainable places on Earth exists just outside its city limit. Springs Preserve is a cultural and historical attraction designed to commemorate Las Vegas' history and provide a vision for a sustainable future. The site of the Preserve is known as the birthplace of Las Vegas. It was once home to bubbling springs which served as a water source for Native Americans living in the area long ago. We talk with Marcel Parent, a director at the Preserve, about the importance of having a place like this so close to Las Vegas.

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by Desiree Cooper with Marc Sanchez

Most people come here to Las Vegas to visit the strip, win big and spend big. But I'm more interested in the natural environment, the desert.

Here at the newly-opened Springs Preserve, about three miles from the strip, is an interactive desert museum and educational center. They have exhibits teaching people how to live more in harmony with the desert environment.

This is one of the most sustainably-built places on the planet. The parking structure has rows of solar panels jutting off the roof. And the garden streams use reclaimed water.

The preserve itself, has indoor and outdoor exhibits and trails and one could easily spend the weekend walking the grounds.

Marcel Parent, the director of the volunteer and education programs, was kind enough to give us a look at a few exhibits.

"We really have four different areas of the preserve," he said, "and each one of them deserve their own part of the day to visit. There's the origin building over here, there are the trails, the desert living center, which we are going into. The sustainability gallery's in there, and the gardens."

The Ori-Gen Experience exhibit features a flash-flood experience in a theater. It's one of the most exciting spaces here.

In the exhibit room, 5,000 gallons of (recycled) water comes barreling down a man-made ravine. We're all out of harm's way on an observation deck. Everyone here seems to be enjoying the experience, especially the kids.

"As we cross into this particular environment," Parent says, "now we are at the second gallery, which is about the people of the springs.""Out here we show some of the Native Americans that lived here, and how they lived here.

"There is a way to work with the environment. The Piutes, the Patayans and the Peubloians did it for a long time. But even they did it on a seasonal basis. This is a really, really tough environment to live in.

"So over here you have a Patayan dwelling, and you can tell that building into the ground and the much thicker insulation for the building made it possible for them to stay much longer. And occasionally they'd be able to stay a much longer time."

"What's the roof made out of," I asked.

"Primarily mud," said Parent. "You really had 2-3 feet of it on top." They would also dig down into the ground another 2 feet and use the soil as a thermal mass.

Parent continues, "The Payutes came later and had much more temporary dwellings. These wikiups, tentlike dwellings made of brush or hide, are much lighter and these guys were in and out of the valley, literally."

They look a bit hollowed out.

"And very light material, said Parent "Easy to carry. Almost a disposable type of building."

The Desert Living Center houses the sustainability gallery and the place was actually buzzing. A kid generated electricity by riding a bike, a big garbage truck was decorated with flattened aluminum cans. And there's a see-through hybrid car.

"People get a chance to change the fan blades on the wind turbine over there," points Parent. "And in here we have our sustainable house. Our sustainable house uses clothes that are sustainable, either from recycled materials, or in certain cases, organic cotton farms."

Appliances are extremely energy efficient like a combination washer/dryer, which shocks a lot of people. A lot of folks haven't heard about them even though they;ve been on the market for a while.

In the restroom, even the greenest among us might not be ready to tackle a composting toilet.

"You are flushing nothing away," said Parent. "Not only that, you are re-using the waste to fertilize your garden."

I'm gonna have to think about that.

"Most people need to think about it."

More stories from our Sustainability series


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