By Kathleen McKevitt – Special to the Pahrump Valley Times
The success of the children’s book “The Keeper of Wheeler Well,” and subsequent educational materials for school-aged children, plus the ongoing effort to support the Wheeler Pass area of the Spring Mountains specifically, Wheeler Well, have propelled the Pahrump Arts Council (PAC) to apply for a grant to do even more — much more.
Like many stories that prompt action, so has the story of Dick Senior and his restoration of Wheeler Well. Some 10 years ago, in 2001, when he found the well not only dry and the trough broken but riddled with bullet holes, a larger project was born.
The original well was created by longtime Pahrump resident Gary Bowman and his family, to help the animals in the area have water.
The story of Senior’s repair of the well, his various talks with area locals and the forest service personnel who also had a desire to keep the well water available to wildlife and the area clean of discarded trash, reached the Pahrump Arts Council.
At the request of one forest service outreach employee, the council created a “working group” to brainstorm and develop a plan of action.
The Keeper working group met until they had a refined plan of action and had obtained a grant from the Mt. Charleston License Plate grant committee for over $13,000 before starting their project.
The results include an illustrated children’s book called “The Keeper of Wheeler Well,” packaged educational materials for young people and a plant guide to indigenous plants in the Wheeler Well area — stage one.
Right now, according to Dick Senior, the water in the well is frozen solid and will be until the end of February. “It’s 20 degrees colder up there,” said Senior. “But when the water starts running again around early March, it will take a day for the well to fill and it will be like that through August when the spring dries up.”
People call Senior a hero for restoring the well. Asked how he feels about that title, he said, “I just feel a lot of satisfaction for how things are turning out. I never thought anything like this (meaning recognition) would happen to me.”
It’s been five years since the initial project started. Today, a group of fewer people with more experience, are initiating both a new grant and a new set of projects planned for completion within the next two years.
Keepers of the Wheeler Well part 2, is happening now, with the assurance of a new grant soon to be approved for the work of the Pahrump Arts Council projects to continue telling the story of the Keeper of the Wheeler Well, his stewardship and that of others who continue to support this project.
Local people who support conservation of our natural resources can obtain copies of the original book and educational materials at the PAC office at 2340 E. Calvada Blvd., Suite B in Pahrump, while a larger work is already underway.
The follow-up grant from the Mt. Charleston License Plate Program will amount to $19,900, which will pay for the creation of a picture story book, intended for pre-school to grades 1-2, a comprehensive study of the flora of the Wheeler Well area and the Spring Mountain’s west side.
Chair of the Wheeler Well team, Loretta Lindell, said, “While Dick Senior has a great knowledge of the plants in the area, even from the forest service there is no complete field guide on plant life on the west side of the Spring Mountains and around the well. So, we’re creating one.”
The guide is expected to be published in 2013. Most of the pictures will be photography but Lindell said, “There are many plants that bloom year around that we can’t get pictures of when they’re blooming so there will also be line art of those in our guide.”
The children’s book is part of a continuing effort to emphasize personal responsibility and stewardship in nature, and according to Dick Senior, “Kids learning this at an early age gives them an appreciation they will hold through their lives.”
These days, Senior, and a friend, Mike Crouch, who is helping him stay apprised of what’s happening in the Wheeler Well area during the winter, take their ATVs to the mountain to check on the well. While the well is frozen for the next couple of months, Senior said, “We still go up and see if anybody has left trash or shot holes in the well. We see less of that than we used to and hope it stops altogether.”
Senior attributes less well damage and less trash left on the ground to word getting out that the area is being cared-for.
“We really hope all this education and training, hard work and book sales will help even more to keep our natural areas and wildlife unharmed.”
Phase II for the Well Keeper project includes continuing surveillance trips to the well. Senior notes there seem to be more deer, birds in larger variety, and generally more animal life — but less horses and mules due to the controversial round-ups by the Bureau of Land Management.
Phase II for the project team includes a multi-faceted educational program for the public and in Nye County schools. Having already produced fourth grade-level biological/ecological curriculum for teachers, a new activities guide to go with the children’s picture book appropriate for each age group is in the planning stages with more in the wings.
Materials will be presented to each elementary school (serving approximately 2500 students) in the Nye County School District, and will be offered at a wholesale price to other area schools. The set is intended to help young students understand the concepts of stewardship of nature (land and animals), and how plants adapt to their environments.
The indigenous plants guide is intended for middle/high school students, hikers and the general public and can be purchased through the Pahrump Arts Council when it is published. Income from any purchased reference materials related to this project will be donated to the Pahrump Community Library.
Lindell said, “It’s always been a collaborative effort between many parties and individuals who came to find each other and work together for this important cause.”