Lake Mead has plenty to celebrate

Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the nation’s first park of its kind.

It’s a day all Boulder City residents should celebrate. Aside from the wonderful recreational opportunities available at the park, its millions of visitors spend about $260 million annually in nearby communities — including Boulder City — and it contributes to nearly 3,000 jobs for area residents.

The recreation area’s humble beginnings date to June 22, 1936, when Congress set aside $10,000 to study the recreational potential of Boulder Dam. It was a joint project between the National Park Service and Bureau of Reclamation.

Later that year, the two agencies agreed to share maintenance of the area, with the bureau assuming responsibility for the dam and its support facilities in Boulder City and the Park Service taking care of the lake and areas along its shoreline.

The following year saw the lake’s elevation rise 73 feet, from 1,022 feet to 1,095 feet, along with an increase in the number of visitors. The Park Service reports that 500,000 people came to see the “engineering marvel and to enjoy the new water recreation opportunity” in the desert.

It wasn’t until after World War II that Americans truly began to appreciate outdoor recreation and visitation tripled.

Years of political negotiations followed until Lake Mead National Recreation Area was officially created on Oct. 8, 1964. That year, 3.4 million people visited the park.

Visitation numbers have consistently climbed since then and today hovers at 6.5 million annually, ranking it as one of the nation’s top 10 most visited parks.

Whether by land or water, there are many reasons why.

Most often, when you think of Lake Mead, you think of the lake itself. In reality, 13 percent of the recreation area is covered in water.

The park encompasses 1.5 million acres including nine specific wilderness areas in Nevada and Arizona and three types of desert ecosystems.

There are natural hot springs, Native American petroglyphs, and remnants of lava flows.

It is home to about 500 animal species, including the relict leopard frog, once thought to be extinct, and 900 plant species.

Although the actual anniversary is Wednesday, most of the celebrations will take place Oct. 11 so that more people can join the festivities.

Highlights include the chance to explore ranger vehicles and vessels from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., a joint project to clean up Cottonwood Cove on land and underwater, and cake. No celebration is complete without cake.

The anniversary cake will be cut at 1 p.m. and festivities will include a presentation by Sen. Harry Reid’s office to commemorate the anniversary.

There will be two volunteer cleanup dives at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Land cleanup efforts are scheduled from 9-11:30 a.m.

Each volunteer will receive a T-shirt, lunch and be entered into a prize drawing. Volunteers who wish to help with the cleanup efforts must register in advance (www.getoutdoorsnevada.org/event-registration/).

However, on the 50th anniversary itself, there will be a lecture and art show about the hidden beauty of the park by Nevada artist and naturalist Sharon Schafer. It will begin at 6 p.m. in the visitor center.

The multimedia program will combine music, stories, photos and paintings to explore the region’s wilderness areas. Space is limited and reservations are required; call 702-293-8990 to register.

Each season brings another reason to visit the recreation area. Fall and spring are ideal for hiking. Winter is the best time to spot the bald and golden eagles that make their home along the shores. The lake is a great place to cool off during summer’s soaring temperatures.

If you haven’t been to the recreation area in a while, now is the perfect time. You can help celebrate its 50th anniversary and get reacquainted with the many reasons why our nation’s leaders voted to protect and preserve the park.

For some extra inspiration, visit http://1.usa.gov/1thCIkA for the National Park Service’s list of 50 things to do at Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

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