Among natural areas, Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area has long seemed like a neglected stepchild. But that’s about to change
Let’s play compare and contrast. Red Rock and Sloan Canyon are both national conservation areas. They both feature breathtaking vistas, amazing petroglyphs, diverse wildlife and, of course, wonderful hiking opportunities.
But the similarities end there. Drive through Red Rock and you’ll see a well-appointed visitors center, clearly marked hiking trails, educational kiosks, plentiful parking. Drive through Sloan Canyon and, well, you’re in for a bumpy ride, figuratively and literally. The road to get to the 48,000-acre area is rough and rutted — four-wheel-drive is a must — oh, and good luck finding a restroom or interpretive signs, let alone a visitors center. When you visit Sloan Canyon, you’re pretty much on your own. It’s often been a source of wonder to both visitors and activists: Why doesn’t Sloan Canyon seem to get any love?
It isn’t about love but, rather, money. Bankrolled largely by interest from a $65 million federal land sale, Sloan Canyon doesn’t get annual federal funding, nor does it rake in the fat fees — think entrance fees, camping fees, special recreation fees — that Red Rock does. (To be fair, Sloan Canyon is about a quarter of the size of Red Rock, and receives about 78,000 visitors per year while Red Rock sees about 1.2 million.)
The result: the national conservation area christened in 2002 has remained something of a gem in the rough — despite longstanding plans to make the area more visitor-friendly. It’s been a source of anticipation — and some frustration — to outdoors enthusiasts and activists such as J.T. Reynolds, president of Friends of Sloan Canyon. They feel like the BLM has been a little overcautious in spending only the interest from the land sale money for fear of depleting its bankroll.
“And that’s okay. That’s one option to consider, but you still need to put facilities out there and you still need to have personnel to manage those resources and to better protect them,” he says.
More than a decade later, Sloan Canyon is still rough around the edges. Blame the economy: In the boom years, a 2005 plan that envisioned a visitors center, a paved entrance road and trail improvements was put in deep hibernation when the economy crashed — right on Sloan Canyon’s doorstep. Planned community Inspirada, a major prospective source of Sloan Canyon’s visitors, faltered and went into bankruptcy. “It didn’t make sense to build a road that was going to require a third of the funding when there was suddenly going to be virtually no visitation,” says BLM spokesperson Kirsten Cannon. “The fate of Sloan Canyon and the fate of Inspirada were intertwined.”
Now, with the economy (and Inspirada) revving again, the plan is back — tweaked and scaled down a bit, but definitely back. Set for release this month, the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area Implementation Plan will include a visitors center, information kiosks and professional staff — finally spending down the $65 million bankroll dedicated to the area. “People are eager to see something on the ground now that the economy is bouncing back,” says Cannon.
Friends of Sloan Canyon Vice President Terri Robertson is certainly eager. When she first learned of housing developments slated near Sloan Canyon, she had concerns about suburban encroachment. Now she sees the people moving in as potential allies in preserving this natural gem of Henderson.
“The more good people you get out here,” she says, “the better it gets.”