Excellence in Craftsmanship
|By ELIZABETH LEXAU|
The Springs Preserve in Las Vegas is another award-winning outdoor environment built with the help of ValleyCrest Landscape Development. Only three miles from the lights and action of the Strip, this 180-acre site provides a sanctuary for people and wildlife that seems far removed from the city.
Located at the original birthplace of Las Vegas and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the site showcases the natural and cultural history of the area. It commemorates the bubbling spring that once rose here from the Mojave Desert, creating the meadows that gave Las Vegas its name.
While the original spring dried up in the early 1960s, this strip of desert has been brought back to flourishing life with a recreated wetland and new cultural/historical facilities.
ValleyCrest Landscape Development, Las Vegas, built the gardens and landscape for the project. Deneen Powell and Atelier, Inc., of San Diego, California, created the design. The project features numerous sustainable components, such as biofiltration ponds that reclaim on-site wastewater, drip irrigation systems and advanced irrigation technology. Mulch from reclaimed glass, green walls, indigenous plantings, and water-wise gardens are a few of the elements that put sustainable landscaping ideas into practice.
More than 1200 species of plants and 250 wildlife species now call the Springs Preserve home. Visitors enjoy eight acres of carefully restored habitat, colorful botanical gardens, and interactive exhibits. Numerous walking trails lead to a cienega, the restored desert wetland that supports hundreds of native plant and animal species.
The Preserve’s educational facilities focus on the history of the area and the importance of water to both the past and future of the region. Key among the educational resources at the site is the Desert Living Center, a LEED Platinum-certified five-building campus that offers practical, tangible examples of sustainable construction, water-efficient landscaping, and ideas for low-impact living in a desert environment. The Preserve’s extensive demonstration gardens are an important component of the project. They include drought-tolerant, desert zone plants that grow in the gypsum soils of the Eastern Mojave Desert. The gardens help visitors plan and visualize their own water-efficient landscapes by displaying the many plants, soil amendments, ground covers and irrigation systems that can be used to create stunning yet sustainable gardens.
“A primary goal of the project was to demonstrate how beautiful a natural landscape can be without using a lot of water,” says Laura Crumpler, project manager, ValleyCrest Landscape Development, Las Vegas. “So many people want to use grass in their yards here, but Las Vegas is getting short of water. This shows how pretty it can be to use more water-efficient plantings instead.”
The gardens and landscaping at the Preserve display a great deal of attention to detail and authenticity. Historically accurate plantings show how the area probably looked when generations of nomadic Native Americans lived there. Dry riverbeds planted with native grasses replicate the original stream beds. Natural boulders placed among the native plantings and mature trees all give the feeling that this oasis has been here for many years.
“The goal was to make you feel like you were out in the desert and not three miles from downtown Las Vegas,” says Crumpler. “We wanted to make everything look like we didn’t build it there, but that it had naturally evolved.”
Meeting this goal involved plenty of challenges. One of the biggest was locating all of the plant materials specified for the project. To demonstrate the diversity of plants that can be used in a water-efficient landscape, the plan called for an incredible array of both native and nonnative species.
“There were more than 1200 different species, ranging from little cuttings to boxed trees,” says Crumpler. “This was to show people that we’re not limited to growing cactus here. We can grow beautiful things in the desert.”
The far-reaching search took over a year and included plants from more than twenty states. It involved ValleyCrest branches nationwide. “With the entire company assisting, we were able find most of the plant materials requested,” says Crumpler. Salvaging mature trees to use in the new project was another challenge. “This was actually somewhat of an afterthought,” says Crumpler. “The original plan called for using regular trees but once we started building the job, the owner thought they were too small.”
With 50-year-old trees available on the original historical site nearby, they decided to move those instead. While the logistics were not easy, it was worth the effort. “It went from two-foot boxes to 12- foot boxes,” says Crumpler. “We knew it would be a challenge but we were game because we wanted the same results they wanted. We knew in the end it would be better for the project and it was. Instead of looking like new construction, it became an established landscape.” Creating the long dry riverbed that runs through the site was another major effort.
“The hard part starts at the beginning with the grading,” says Crumpler. “Before you can lay one stone, you have to make sure the grading is done correctly.” Placement of natural rock in the wash involved both heavy equipment and almost artistic precision. “The heavy equipment comes in and dumps the rock, but then we need to go in to make sure it looks like a natural dry wash when it’s done,” says Crumpler. Large and small rocks were meticulously arranged to make them appear as though they had actually come tumbling down the river. Stones were hand-placed by experienced field staff using a careful eye and some imagination. “You have to picture a river,” says Crumpler. “If this rock were taken down river by rushing water, where would it stop? That’s where you put that rock.”
Even the boulders used on the project received individual attention. “The boulders were a huge effort on our part, the owners, and the vendor,” says Crumpler. “They were surface select boulders. They needed to have sunburn and lichen on them to look like they had been there for a long time. Over 600 boulders were handpicked off the side of a mountain by our team and the staff of the Springs Preserve. We walked for hours, choosing the ones that matched the site and that had the look they wanted.”
Moving them in one piece from the mountain site in the middle of the desert to the project location was another difficult task. “Once they got to the project site, we had to decide which ones would go where. This was a major collaborative effort between us and the owner. You’d never know that so much goes into one boulder.”
Teamwork and coordination
Projects of this magnitude require extraordinary coordination and cooperation. “The challenge is to achieve the construction goals for the company while keeping the intent of the architect intact,” says Crumpler. She says maintaining the schedule is the key and the hardest part of the job. “It’s both the goal, and the limitation. We have to move fast, plant well, protect it all, and everything has to stay healthy.”
Meeting these goals takes constant communication. “We put together a duration schedule for every single area of the project,” says Crumpler. “This says how many days we need to get each job done. Then we keep the owner updated at every point. We constantly let the owner and the other contractors know how much time we need.”
This way there are no surprises if work is delayed or if overtime charges are required. “We stay proactive,” says Crumpler. “We help the owner help himself.” Crumpler also emphasizes the teamwork that went into the project. “The staff at the Preserve includes archeologists and arborists who are very talented in ecological restoration. They would look at an area on the plan and make any changes needed. Then they’d take a step back and really fine-tune it. ValleyCrest, working together with the owner every day all day, is really what brought this project home.”
A commitment to quality and customer service
Not any company could tackle a project of this scope, but as the nation’s largest landscape and site construction company, ValleyCrest was certainly up to the task. From amazing habitats in parks like Sea- World’s Discovery Cove and Disney’s Animal Kingdom to the extraordinary grounds of world-class museums, hotels and resorts, the company is known for building some of the most distinctive man-made outdoor environments in the country.
ValleyCrest Landscape Development is one of the ValleyCrest Companies that was founded as Valley Crest Landscape Nurseries in 1949 by Burton Sperber. High demand for their services led to rapid growth; by the 1960s the company was expanding out of the Los Angeles area into other cities and states. In the 1990s, the company was doing land mark projects across the country.
In 2002, the company adopted the ValleyCrest name for all of its divisions, with the parent company now named ValleyCrest Companies. Headquartered at its own spectacularly landscaped campus in Calabasas, California, the company now operates through a branch network of more than 100 offices and more than 10,000 employees.
While ValleyCrest has undergone tremendous expansion and change over nearly six decades, it has not lost sight of the core values that Sperber interjected into the company he founded. These include customer service, innovation, seamless delivery, and attention to detail. These are the qualities that keep ValleyCrest’s services in high demand for projects like the Springs Preserve.
A thriving community resource
The Springs Preserve is more than a wildlife sanctuary and an educational resource. It also serves as a lively gathering space for the people of Las Vegas, with dining, live music, a farmers market and other community events year-round.
ValleyCrest was recently awarded the prestigious Judges Award in the Environmental Improvement Awards Program of the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) for its role in the project. It’s easy to see why. Before the restoration project, this important piece of history and nature had begun to fade into the background. With the help of ValleyCrest, the Springs Preserve is once again bursting with life and beauty.