Tule Springs Could Be Our Newest National Monument, Thanks in Part to One Dedicated Volunteer

Wearing her signature explorer's outfit, Jill DeStefano has worked many events to educate the public about Tule Springs.

Wearing her signature explorer's outfit, Jill DeStefano has worked many events to educate the public about Tule Springs. Photo © Harry Mortenson.

When Jill DeStefano moved from Florida to Las Vegas in 2006, she pictured leisurely mornings, afternoons of mahjong or bridge, and quiet evenings on the patio, watching the sun set. Little did she know she would take on a campaign to make the area near her home a new national monument, managed by the National Park Service.

In 2006, as Jill started daily walks into the desert, she learned that the Bureau of Land Management had started up public hearings to sell off the land to developers. At those public meetings Jill gained a new appreciation for the land that had, in the 1960s, been considered one of the most important Ice Age fossil sites in the West, in turn attracting scores of scientists, National Geographic’s interest, and funding from the National Science Foundation. Yet this area had been all but forgotten as Las Vegas’s rapid and expansive growth became legendary.

“I looked around and couldn’t believe that this entire area had been mapped for more and more homes,” says Jill. “When I found out that future streets in this area had been named, I said ‘Whoa, wait a minute! We’re going to allow developers to build over thousands of years of history?’”

Soon, Jill and other concerned citizens in Tule Springs may finally see that history preserved. NPCA expects Congress to introduce legislation very soon that would make a 23,000-acre swathe on the outskirts of Las Vegas our nation’s newest national monument. What’s almost as amazing as the rich history of this site is how Jill has helped it all come together.

After Jill learned about the danger to her fossil-rich surroundings, she began rallying her neighbors and organized a citizens’ group called Protectors of Tule Springs. They spent weekends collecting thousands of signatures at the entrance of the Division of Motor Vehicles and weeknights at city council meetings and BLM public-comment forums, where they attracted friends and opponents. One pro-development participant told her to “just go home and play bridge.”

Protectors of Tule Springs held their ground. In 2009, Jill ramped up the campaign and started speaking about the economic benefits of creating an urban national park.

Working with NPCA and armed with a National Park Service report citing the area’s importance, Jill has been key in securing unanimous support from the mayors and city councils of both the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, all seven county commissioners, tribal leaders of the Las Vegas Paiute, and, notably, the heavy-duty endorsement of colonels and other high-ranking military officials from nearby Nellis Air Force Base.

Over the years, a modest proposal that would have marginally protected 2,500 acres of land expanded into agreement to preserve more than 23,000 acres. In the process, Jill and members of a loose but vocal coalition have stood up to unreasonable demands from the local power company to locate a transmission corridor over fossil-dense lands. Jill herself has volunteered her summers and weekends guiding community leaders through the area and honing a vision of a world-class destination. She has spent countless hours of her “free time” conducting research, making calls, and writing letters.

We take our hats off to Jill, an inspiration and a great role model of citizen leadership. Soon Congress can make her vision a reality by quickly passing this legislation so that all of us can enjoy the benefits of her tireless work. Read more on the significance of the proposed monument site and the long path to preserving it in recent stories in National Parks Traveler and National Parks magazine.

About the Author

Lynn Davis is senior program manager for NPCA’s Nevada Field Office.