By Kathleen McKevitt – Special to the Pahrump Valley Times
Starting back in 2003, varied groups of horse lovers have met on a regular basis to talk about a concept referred to as Last Chance Park. The plans were made, maps drawn and public meetings were held about three years ago. No one has mentioned it since.
Those horse lovers continue longing for local horse trails, dog runs, picnic areas, playgrounds and a natural area where people could trail ride away from street and highway noise, and in a setting that would be kept natural, while also protecting those lands and properties for critters and people.
Claire Toomie, one of the original organizers, reminisces about the professional support that has been part of the planning, including riding professionals, the National Park Service, Conservation Study Institute, the Nevada Trails Program, American Hiking Society, Bureau of Land Management, and seemingly endless numbers of local people.
The Town Board, Landscaping and Development Analysts, and many other agencies are included in the list. “That was ten years ago. Ten years of working, reworking, and possibly getting to see the fruition of that hard work,” Toomie said.
In 2010, the National Park Service offered its final report stating the park’s location and work schedule three years hence, when real activity on the desired trails would be possible.
Toomie, an endurance rider, reports that she, and others who ride, have taken to the hills in backcountry areas where there are some watering holes. She and the team that worked on the project for a decade, now believe that it could become a reality in 2013.
“The mountain trails are primitive,” said Toomie. “You have to have a well-trained horse and rider for the kind of back-country trails that are true get-away rides.”
What prompted the hope of having a park is two-fold: safe local, quiet riding area (helpful especially for those who don’t have livestock trailers), and to also have a park suitable for dog-walkers and some family activities. The switchbacks, mud, rocks and great distances between water areas are tough-going for horse and rider in the high mountains.
Toomie is also still hoping for what she calls “Hoof and Foot trails right here in Pahrump,” which appears to be a blooming reality.
A Bridle Trail project is also in process, chaired by Debra Strickland. An area has been mapped out and definite plans are underway for a separate project from the Last Chance Park geared exclusively for local horse riders, and located in the Pahrump area.
“What’s exciting about this,” said Strickland, “Is that say from Pahrump Valley Boulevard or many other places there will be ‘jump points’ where riders can come to by riding there, or parking a horse trailer and riding from any of the jump points, taking marked trails far and wide.
“It’s awesome for riders in this area to finally have something like this and we’ve been working on it since 2002.”
Elaine McPherson, secretary of the Bristlecone chapter of Back Country Riders believes there are over 3,000 active riders in the Pahrump Valley. “Probably more than that,” she said, and Toomie agrees. Kathy Cheney and Toomie have been a part of the riding community for over 30 years and believe if all active and inactive riders were counted the number would be much higher.
The “Hoof and Foot Trails” are planned to be just as available to walkers/hikers. The next step is a final plan on the town board agenda and the team believes they have strong support there.
They are also hopeful for a designated shooting range and hope that project also moves forward, helping riders and walkers to be safer.
But the larger reality with the planning for the Last Chance Park is it will manifest this year, according to long-time team member and Chair of the Public Lands Advisory Board (PLAB), Mike Hrubetz, who said, “We have a new Field Officer at the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), and she has been a great help already to keep the wheels turning on this project.”
A BLM-required planning map takes two years to complete, which has been a factor in moving forward. It must then be approved.
Still, Hrubetz ventures a hopeful estimate that Parks and Recreation can and will begin implementing the plans for a 10-acre park just off Highway 160 on the north side of Pahrump.
Firm site location and parameters are being withheld until there is greater clarity in two areas: historical artifacts that need to be removed by the BLM to a museum; and contractors to provide bids and be selected.
Hrubetz said, “Plans have gone from a very large planned acreage for the park, to only 10 acres, but this is the first time we’re really getting somewhere.”
Hrubetz reports the teams have been pleased with the supportive assistance of the town board over time. “Now,” said Hrubetz, “We are excited to see this project so near manifestation. There are possible roadblocks, seen and unseen, but for the most part we feel positively that it will move forward now.”
Local horse people are the first to say that there are so many differing styles of riding, each with different requirements, that it has been difficult to get one central organization in place.
But offshoots like the Bristlecone Back Country organization, intrepid activists like Cheney and Toomie and scores of others working with the Forest Service, the BLM and local government and other organizations believe they are about to see real progress in the creation of the Pahrump Valley’s first natural setting designated trails, and a real park for safely riding, walking and non-motor biking.