LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Development of a 315-acre state park in North Las Vegas is getting a push toward completion thanks to a $3.5 million grant for outdoor amenities.

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust announced Wednesday the grant for Ice Age Fossils State Park, a Southern Nevada area rich in Pleistocene-era fossils about 10 miles north of downtown Las Vegas, at North Decatur Boulevard and Brent Lane.

According to a news release from the trust, once the outdoor amenities phase of the project is completed later this year, the park is expected to be open to the public. Until then, it is closed.

“We believe all Nevadans should have access to the outdoors for their health. Not just their physical health by using the trails that our over here but also the mental health. Just to be outside and unwind,” Walter Panzirer, a Helmsley Trustee said.

The Helmsley Charitable Trust’s grant to the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Nevada Division of State Parks (NDSP) will fund construction of state-of-the-art outdoor facilities that will educate and engage visitors, provide recreational opportunities, and  interpret discoveries of fossils and artifacts throughout the park, the release said.

“A wide variety of prehistoric mammals once roamed this picturesque landscape,” Panzirer said. “The Helmsley Charitable Trust is excited to help open Ice Age Fossils State Park so Nevada residents and visitors can learn about the site’s exceptional scientific history while enjoying its miles of hiking trails.”

Bob Mergell, Administrator for the Division of State Parks, said the community can learn more about what Nevada’s landscape even highlighting the Big Dig expedition in 1962.

“I don’t have the words to express how excited I am about finally getting this place open to the public,” explained Mergell.

The Tule Springs Expedition of 1962-’63, conducted on this site and later known as “The Big Dig,” unearthed fossils from Columbian mammoths, camels, ground sloths, American lions, and dire wolves. It was the largest inter-disciplinary scientific expedition of its kind, and paleontological research within the park site continues.

The park’s visitor center will feature fossils and artifacts, interactive exhibits, a space for temporary displays, a giftshop, and a 10-minute film. Other amenities include a paved parking lot, trailhead restrooms, a water fill-up station, and a picnic pavilion. 

Ice Age Fossils State Park is off North Decatur Boulevard, north of Grand Teton Drive. (The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust)

“Nevada State Parks is incredibly grateful for the generosity and support of The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust,” Mergell said. “Thanks to their partnership, Nevadans and visitors will soon have an exciting new way to immerse themselves in a prehistoric world rich with remnants from the Ice Age, including fossils of animals such as dire wolves, Columbian mammoths, and saber-toothed cats.”

The park’s 3.5-mile network of interconnected hiking trails will feature interpretive panels and shade structures. Those trails include:

  • The Big Dig Trail, a hike through trenches bulldozed by the Tule Springs Expedition and highlighting scientific discoveries.
  • The Las Vegas Wash Trail, exploring the natural forces that created and reshaped the landscape over the course of millennia.
  • The Megafauna Trail, showcasing life-size sculptures of the massive animals that once roamed Tule Springs. 

Ice Age Fossils State Park will also provide a permanent home for the Monumental Mammoth, a life-size sculpture of a Columbian Mammoth assembled using materials recovered from clean-ups throughout the Tule Springs fossil beds. The sculpture, which was envisioned by 17-year-old Girl Scout Tahoe Mack, premiered at Burning Man in 2019.

The park property was initially acquired by the Nevada Division of State Parks in 1958 and officially proclaimed a state park in 2017 as part of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s “Explore Your Nevada” initiative.