There are 27 state parks in Nevada.
Some are well known and you may have heard of them, like Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe and Valley of Fire, north of Las Vegas.
And others are hidden gems, like Beaver Dam or Berlin-Ichthyosaur state park.
And now, the parks have a new administrator, Robert Mergell. He’s a longtime parks employee, and his job is to keep the parks thriving.
Mergell said Nevada's state parks are a diverse mix from those found in an urban setting like the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort in downtown Las Vegas to the newest park Walker River Recreation Area near Yerington, which is made up of several rural ranches.
With that kind of diversity, the needs of the parks vary widely, Mergell said, which means park employees have a variety of jobs. Mergell said that is something he would like to change. He wants to see more specializing for park employees.
“In a lot of instances, we have park rangers that are both the fee collector, the public safety officer, the park interpreter, the accountant for the park,” he said.
Mergell would like to see more park interpreter programs that were specific for that park and more maintenance people assigned specifically to one park.
But like all state agencies, the budget is a concern. He said figuring out the budget is the most challenging part of his job.
“Just trying to do my part to make sure we have a budget that is going to support our parks every biennium when we have to put our budgets together,” he said.
Budget is not the only thing he would like the Legislature to address in its upcoming session. He said a rule that allows seniors to get a discount permit also requires those seniors to be five-year residents of the state.
Mergell said that rule doesn't make a lot of sense and park employees would like to see it eliminated.
Besides the legislative session and the budget process, another important event on the horizon for Nevada's state parks is the opening of the Ice Age Fossil State Park north of Las Vegas.
“I think it is going to be pretty spectacular given what we had to work with to begin with," Mergell said.
The fossil beds are adjacent to the national monument that will feature some of the same types of fossils from the Ice Age, but the land is owned by the state. Mergell expects the visitor center for the new state park to open later this year.
The visitor center will give people a look at what that area once looked like during the Ice Age and will feature fossils from the animals that once called Nevada home.
Robert Mergell, administrator, Nevada State Parks