LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Soon the temperature in the Desert Southwest will begin to climb and there will be more sunny days. This will lead many people to travel to Lake Mead to boat, fish, swim, and explore. But as plans are being made it’s important to remember the rules that apply to the area which is federal property.

As was seen in 2022, extreme water loss at the lake will begin to expose once-hidden objects once again. The lake is currently more than 182 feet lower than its ‘full pool’ maximum level. Over a couple of months in 2022, this led to the discovery of at least five bodies, animal bones, hundreds of sunken boats, guns, and tons of trash.

Lake Mead July 6, 2000 (Left) – July 3, 2022 (Right)

Treasure hunters

While it’s tempting for some to take home ‘treasures’ from a trip to the lake, it’s actually illegal to remove anything from the lake and surrounding Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

If anyone finds what looks like old personal items, the NPS said it’s important to remember that removing anything from National Park Service land is illegal. “If personal effects are found on the beach or the open water, visitors can leave these items at nearby ranger stations or can drop them off at entrance stations before they leave the park,” the NPS told 8 News Now. “Otherwise, if items are found within or part of a larger area for a sunken vessel, they should leave the items alone and call Lake Mead Dispatch (702-293-8998) for them to manage the area appropriately once on scene.”

The NPS also stated if someone is found to have removed something from National Park Service property they could find themselves in trouble with the law. “There are formal policies, including the NPS’s Code of Federal Regulations states in Title 36, under the Preservation of Natural, Cultural and Archeological Resources, that the taking of items from NPS lands along with the possession is a class B misdemeanor; all of which are punishable by a fine (up to $5,000) or other penalties. Additionally, collecting surface finds that are exposed, or not dug up is also a violation of the Archeological Resource Protection Act.”

Old boats

Over the last year, many people asked if there are any plans to remove the boats and other items that became exposed and even hazards for people at the lake. When asked if there are plans to remove the boats, the NPS wrote, “There are many sunken boats at Lake Mead; some of which are historic structures. As vessels continue to surface, park staff document their locations and assess for potential hazards or threats to environmental or human safety. But it is not standard park policy to remove a boat from the lake due to it being a labor-intensive, multifaceted and costly process.”

But what should someone who discovers an abandoned or once sunken boat that’s now exposed do? According to the NPS, “If the public sees a navigation hazard that’s not marked, they should call 702-293-8778 to report it.”

A large boat re-emerges from Lake Mead as lake levels continue to drop. (Photo: Travis Pardee)

Filming and recording video at Lake Mead

Toward the end of 2022, there were many social media posts and shared videos on YouTube claiming that the federal government has banned filming at Lake Mead. It turns out the truth doesn’t have a simple explanation.

National Parks

The rules for filming inside Lake Mead National Recreation Area fall under the National Park Service (NPS) rules for filming. If all that is being done is filming (recording video) for personal use, this is and always has been allowed by NPS.

The park service says non-commercial filming includes “student films or videos filmed at Lake Mead National Recreation Area by another government agency or park partner, not intended for commercial use.”

However, if someone is recording video commercially, especially to be put on YouTube or other platforms for profit, then the rules are different. NPS says, “Commercial filming is defined as a digital or film recording of a visual image or sound recording by a person, business or other entity for a market audience, such as for a documentary, television or feature film, advertisement or similar project.”

Simply put, commercial filming at Lake Mead is banned only if the person does not have a filming permit. If someone is filming for a YouTube video anywhere in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, or other national parks, a permit needs to be approved by NPS.

The process to get a permit will take at least 10 days and could take as long as 60 business days to process. Applications for a permit (link below) are accepted through email to LAKE_SPU@nps.gov

Penalty

If NPS catches someone commercially filming without a permit it could mean a fine and even time behind bars, according to the appeal ruling. In the ruling, the judge wrote, “A person convicted of engaging in commercial filming without obtaining a permit or paying a fee faces a fine and up to six months in prison.”

Permit costs

Fees for filming at Lake Mead National Recreation Area vary depending on the type of project being worked on. The following tables explain the fee structure from NPS:

Film Permit Application and Permit Fees

Type of filmingApplication FeePermit CostTotal Cost
Commercial$200$200 +
Cost Recovery*
$400**
Major Motion Picture$500$500 +
Cost Recovery*
$1,000**
Travel Log$150$150 +
Cost Recovery*
$300**
Non-commercial Government Agency/Partners$0$0 +
Cost Recovery***
$0**

Source: nps.gov

*Plus applicable Location Fee **Does not include cost recovery charges ***If applicable

Commercial Filming Location Fees

(not required for non-commercial filming permits)

1-2 people, camera & tripod only$0/day
1-10 people$150/day
11-30 people$250/day
31-49 people$500/day
More than 50 people$750/day

Source: nps.gov

Still photography

Most still photography is allowed without a permit. According to NPS, permits are only required for the following:

  • The activity takes place at location(s) where or when members of the public are generally not allowed.
  • The activity uses model(s), sets(s), or prop(s) that are not a part of the location’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities.
  • The park would incur additional administrative costs to monitor the activity.
  • The park needs to provide management and oversight to:
    • Avoid impairment or incompatible use of the resources and values of the park
    • Limit resource damage
    • Minimize health or safety risks to the visiting public

Marijuana

In Nevada recreational marijuana is legal. Within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area marijuana remains illegal due to federal laws.