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View Over Vegas: Lone Mountain Children’s Discovery Park

By Shane Ice, ASLA, J.W. Zunino & Associates

The emphasis on interactive learning combined with play is continued in this play structure. The rubberized safety surface combines attractive color with cushioning that is surprisingly soft and springy to the step.
Photo by Erik Skindrud

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Lone Mountain, located in northwest region of Las Vegas in Clark County, Nevada, sits high above the glitzy Las Vegas strip. Often compared to Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, Ariz., this monolith is an icon in the northwest Vegas region. Now the adjacent neighborhoods enjoy one of the most wide-ranging learning parks in the West.

Lone Mountain and the area at its base includes an existing 20-acre park facility is used by many locals, as a hiking destination and an escape from the fast-paced city below.

Kids clamber over a large, manufactured climbing rock set near the center of the play zone. Like other play equipment, the rock is surrounded by a rubberized cushioned surface. This area is representative of the world-class rock climbing at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which is a short distance from the children’s park.
Photo courtesy of J.W. Zunino & Associates

Preservations and Protection

In an effort to preserve, restore, and protect the natural integrity of the mountain, along with providing programmed cultural and recreational opportunities for the residents, in 2003, J.W. Zunino and Associates, based in Las Vegas, completed a master plan, which encompassed 371 pristine acres, both surrounding and including Lone Mountain. The master plan was only conceived after nearly three years of ongoing county staff and open public input meetings. During this process, in addition to input provided by county staff, mailers were distributed to all of the adjacent residents, which resulted in multiple public input meetings, where citizens were given the opportunity to provide suggestions to guide the programming to best serve user needs.

"The five-acre learning park opened in 2006. In 2003, J.W. Zunino and Associates completed a master plan for the 371-acre area surrounding Lone Mountain. A total of $2,981,000 in public funds built the five-acre phase of the project."

Fortunately, shortly after the completion and approval of the master plan, funds became available to design and construct one of the more unique portions of the overall park, which was to be a five-acre learning park for children of multiple ages, various disabilities and learning levels.

The park is the second phase of a multi-phased master plan, which was conceived through the cooperative efforts of designers, area residents and Clark County staff.

A computer-generated plan of Lone Mountain Children’s Discovery Park. The project fills a 5-acre rectangle in a freshly-built residential section north of Las Vegas, Nev. The unique design includes 10 learning centers that spotlight local history, natural features, math, science and other subjects. The park opened in September 2006. This 5-acre rectangle was planned for school-aged children. Athletic facilities for adults and older children are located a short distance to the south.
Image courtesy of J.W. Zunino & Associates

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“What are the building blocks of learning? What basic concepts and tools do you need to facilitate higher learning and understanding of the world around you, throughout your life? How can the local desert environment and Clark County be incorporated into the learning experience?”

These were a few of the questions that were continually posed, throughout the design process of Lone Mountain Children’s Discovery Park. Finally, it was decided that the space should provide various levels of learning opportunities for children of all ages. These opportunities would focus on subjects such as alphabet, mathematics, history, science and nature. In addition to these “pods” of learning, the park should also provide opportunities for group gathering and both passive and active recreation.

A 16-pillar pergola surrounding U.S., Nevada and Clark County flags is a focal point near the facility’s parking area. Local officials met here in Sept. 2006 for the park’s dedication ceremony. Note the concrete floor map of Clark County—created using a combination of concrete stain and sandblasting.
Photo By Erik Skindrud

Made in the Shade

The park was divided by locating a new parking area and the more active recreational areas, which include a large shaded group gathering and picnic area situated between two playground areas to the south of the site. The learning pod areas are primarily located to the north and are linked by a concrete walking path, which encompasses both a large flat turf area to the south and a smaller mounded turf area to the north. The learning pods are divided into seven areas.

Pillar No. 1 is labeled to correspond with numeral No. 1 on the flag area’s floor map (see image above). Each of the 16 pillars offers visitors details on a prominent Clark County spot. The anti-skateboard divot at lower right is a detail added by county maintenance crews.
Photo By Erik Skindrud

The learning-pod areas begin with the Clark County history pod. This area is defined by a circular pergola with 16 pillars, each with interpretive signage and an identification number. Each sign tells a story about events that helped shape Clark County, and is referenced on a sandblasted map of Clark County, which has been provided on the ground plane of the space. Each story is oriented in chronological order as one circles the space in a clockwise fashion.

As users exit north from the history area, they encounter an intimate-scale performance and lecture area, which employs granite terraced seating and a concrete lecture stage.

One of two, this tot play area gleams in the desert light at Lone Mountain Children’s Discovery Park in Clark County, Nev., just outside of the Las Vegas city limits. The area includes elements designed to promote fitness and developmental skills for the 2-5 year-old age group.
Photo courtesy of J.W. Zunino & Associates

Math and Science

Adjacent to the north of the lecture area is the “Turtle Shell Maze.” A network of walkways were oriented between mounded landscape areas to give the user a sense of enclosure, while maintaining a visual connection to the rest of the park. Located in the center of the maze is a large climbing rock.

A learning pod devoted to spelling and mathematics-related learning is located to the northwest of the site. Included in this area is a combination of cast-in-place decorative walls, mathematic equation cubes, a measurement demonstration and a giant abacus. All were designed to utilize primary and secondary colors.

Caliche blocks were recovered and shaped on site to make this practical and sustainable retaining wall at the park’s north end. The team specified a fence for safety and to limit after-dark access. Dark-sky lighting directs illumination downwards to limit glare for neighbors.
Photo By Erik Skindrud

The next learning pod to the north is the science and nature pod. This area consists of a geology area with several large indigenous rocks with identification signage, set into the multi-earth-tone hardscape area, signifies geologic stratification. In the middle of this area is a globe of the world, which has been stained to show the earth’s seven continents and its oceans. Included in this area is interpretive signage, which references countries around the world and their approximate distance from the park.

This monument sign greets visitors to the larger Lone Mountain Park’s children’s discovery zone. As this view makes clear, turfgrass is limited to play areas in favor of native shrubs that are sustained by drip irrigation.
Photo By Erik Skindrud

A functioning sundial has been included in this area along with directional information to help educate users on the basics of the lunar cycle and general orientation. Also included in this area are demonstration areas devoted to indigenous mammal and plant species. These areas consist of pavers cast with both plant and animal footprint images. Each paver is accompanied with signage identifying both the common and the scientific name of each species.

Drip emitters are placed at intervals around a rock-covered planting bed. Irrigation valve boxes were specified in desert tan.
Photo By Erik Skindrud

Adjacent to the science and nature pod is a small demonstration garden area, which utilizes native plant material grouped into specific desert communities, situated within an organic network of pathways and seating areas.

A child skips across North America in this view that looks towards the park’s northern border. The large world map was created with colored concrete and includes latitude and longitude numbers etched along the borders (see photo below).
Photo By Erik Skindrud

Located at the southwest of the park is a learning center that is dedicated to recycling and the alternate use of recycled materials. All site furnishings are made of post-consumer recycled materials. Interpretive signage has been provided to educate users on the positive impacts that recycling can have on the environment, as well as explaining the amount of waste material that was recycled in the manufacturing of each site furnishing.

Numbers that mark maps in the park’s geography area were sandblasted into the concrete, creating this textured, relief look.
Photo By Erik Skindrud

Making Future Plans

Lone Mountain Children’s Discovery Park opened to the public in 2006. J.W. Zunino and Associates is currently working closely with Clark County to begin the bidding process to construct the next phase of this regional facility, which will include nearly 100 acres of varied park amenities for all users to enjoy. Future phases of the Lone Mountain Regional Park will be designed, bid, and constructed as funding becomes available.

A tot trots towards play features in the park’s play zone for two-to-five year olds. Note the multi-layered shade structure—critical protection during summertime temperatures that rise to 105 degrees F or more.
Photo By Erik Skindrud

As it now stands and is used by the community, Lone Mountain Children’s Discovery Park is meeting its mission, combining active play with intellectual development. In this, it meets certain ideals while fulfilling its function as a park.

The park’s geology area is a stained-concrete ground plane with large Nevada rock examples set into the surface. Note the light-colored caliche rock in the left foreground. The two-block-high retaining wall that runs from left to right at the rear of this photo is caliche collected and reused on the park site.
Photo courtesy of J.W. Zunino & Associates

As educational philosopher and Dean of Yale Law School (1927-29) Robert M. Hutchins once said, “The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.”

Park designer Shane Ice, a project manager with J.W. Zunino & Associates earned his landscape architecture degree at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. The park’s dormant, overseeded Bermudagrass creates an interesting backdrop in this January view. (Compare to summer photo (below) of the same turf area.)
Photo By Erik Skindrud

The park’s hybrid Bermudagrass turf looked like this in the months following the facility’s dedication in September 2006. Compare this view of the lush lawn with one taken in January. This angle shows nearby Lone Mountain (3,342 ft.), which lends the park its name and late-afternoon shade during the summer months.
Photo courtesy of J.W. Zunino & Associates

Several valued plants did not succeed at the challenging site. This hole marks the spot where a Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) failed or succumbed to vandals. County resources for maintenance and plant replacement are limited.
Photo By Erik Skindrud

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June 26, 2019, 11:56 am PDT

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