Not every city has one beloved icon that both draws visitors and promotes community pride, and even fewer have one as special as Boulder City's unique herd of desert bighorn sheep. Residents of the nearby River Mountains, the animals are frequent visitors of Hemenway Park and play an important role in the larger success of the species in Nevada. The park is also one of the few places where the public can get a close-up view of the bighorn sheep, Nevada's state animal.
The River Mountain Herd today contains a population of over 200 adult sheep, and the herd itself plays an important role in the repopulation efforts across the state. As part of the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) trapping and relocation program, sheep from the River Mountains have been transplanted to establish herds in other historical areas where the animals were formally wiped out. The population of desert bighorn sheep across Nevada has gone from less than 3,000 in 1967 to more than 11,000 today in large part due the resiliency and stability of the River Mountain herd.
For many years NDOW recognized the opportunity that Hemenway Park held for local educational outreach on desert bighorn sheep. In 2013, NDOW approached the City of Boulder City Parks and Recreation Department to propose a partnership. An inter-local agreement finalized by both parties in early 2014 defines two aspects of outreach to occur at Hemenway Park. One is the design and installation of interpretive panels in the park; and the other is in-person programming during the summer months. The goal of the interpretive project is to provide local residents and tourists alike with a unique opportunity to learn more about Nevada's majestic state animal in a setting where there is a high probability of viewing them at the same time.
In July 2014, the Hemenway Park Interpretive Project was opened to the public and has been well received by the community, according to NDOW. "This project has been a great success," said Doug Nielsen, Conservation Education Supervisor in the NDOW Southern Region. "The wildlife experience in Hemenway Park really is a one-of-a-kind experience. People who resist the urge to see how close they can get to the sheep will usually have the best opportunity to view them. Visitors often contact us to say how much they like the information and tell us about the incredible moments they spend with the animals."
The Hemenway Park Interpretive Project consists of six panels mounted on low profile steel bases, designed with a bighorn sheep petroglyph cut-out. The panels and bases were designed and purchased by NDOW and installed by the City of Boulder City. Each of the panels measures two feet by three feet and offers up information about topics like sheep biology, the history of the animal in Nevada, and management of the River Mountain bighorn sheep herd. Two of the panels also have incorporated tactile bronze casts, one of a sheep's horn and the other a bighorn hoof print.
"Anyone who stops by the park now has a constant resource to gain knowledge about the animals they are looking at," said Nielsen.
This summer, phase two of the agreement will open, which is in-person programming. In preparation for this new aspect of the project, NDOW put its wildlife education volunteers through specialized training last fall. Once a week, starting June 4, an NDOW volunteer will be present to answer questions at the park. Volunteers will work rotating Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30 to 4:30pm (see schedule) and will have handouts with information about the sheep. Also on display will be a ram skull and partial hide, so the public can get up close and personal with desert bighorn sheep without having to endanger the animals or the public. There is no formal presentation during the volunteer hours, as the goal is to provide an outreach timeframe so more people will be able to engage with NDOW and watch the sheep at the speed they prefer.
"The Nevada Department of Wildlife thanks Boulder City for their continuing support of bighorn sheep conservation and education. Our partnership benefits the bighorn's future and the quality of life for Nevada's residents and visitors," said Tony Wasley, Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Boulder City Mayor, Roger Tobler agrees. "We're proud of our partnership with the Nevada Department of Wildlife to provide educational opportunities for residents and visitors regarding our bighorn sheep population at Hemenway Park."
When you do stop by the park, NDOW can't guarantee the sheep will be there. They remain wild animals and have no schedule. But even if visitors can't spot a sheep, a variety of wildlife lives in the park year around. Looking around the edges of the grass, visitors may catch sight of a cottontail rabbit, roadrunner or quail. Lizards can also be seen basking in the sun on rocks.
"We encourage everyone to spend a minute talking about desert bighorn sheep with a volunteer at Hemenway Park this summer. It will be worth the investment," said Nielsen.