After the Carpenter 1 fire on Mount Charleston, many groups came together to help rebuild and heal the mountain.

On July 1st, 2013 the Carpenter 1 Fire erupted and over weeks burned 27,881 acres of the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, in the area known to locals as Mount Charleston. If you lived in Las Vegas in 2013, you remember the fire and flames burning our beloved Mount Charleston. Families and businesses in the area had to evacuate. More recently, 2020 brought the Mahogany Fire to Mount Charleston. If you saw the black smoke rolling over the normally blue Las Vegas skies summer of 2020, you had a small glimpse of the damage compared to the Carpenter 1 Fire.

The fire cooled, the rains settled, and the Burned Area Emergency Response team came through to evaluate the damage to provide both recommendations for immediate help and long term plans to restore the burn area. In the years after the fire there were many groups who came to help the Harris Springs Canyon Watershed heal, putting in thousands of hours of work.

The Nevada Conservation Corps from the Great Basin Institute helped the Harris Springs Canyon Watershed by creating sediment traps. Using nearby fallen trees and rocks, crews made blockages in small washes. These blockages help slow water flow on the steep hillsides. The slower water will help keep valuable soil and native seeds on the mountain, and not washed far downstream in town.

Nevada Conservation Corps crew with Great Basin Institute showing the small blockage made from fallen wood to help slow the speed of water flowing downhill

The Nevada Conservation Corps crews planted 180 blackbrush plants and 83 pinyon pine saplings. The native blackbrush was planted to help reestablish the plant community structure and seed banks, which creates a healthy plant community that can help slow the encroachment of invasive weeds. Invasive weeds are plants that are not from the mountain but can sometimes grow faster than the native mountain plants. The invasive weeds can take up limited viable soil space, increase fire frequency, and use up nutrients hindering the native plants to grow. Two of these invasive weeds are cheat grass and Russion thistle (better known as tumbleweed). These plants cause serious problems if left to grow as they can take over whole hillsides and canyons, changing the area and environment permanently. The hard work from the Nevada Conservation Corps crews to plant native blackbrush and pinyon pine sapling trees will help restore plant communities and seed banks.

Nevada Conservation Corps crew member digs holes in the canyon side to plant native plants and to help heal the Harris Springs Canyon Watershed.

Southern Nevada Conservancy helped facilitate planting by volunteers in Harris Springs Canyon. Working alongside Forest Service biologists and Great Basin Institute's Nevada Conservation Corps field crews, Southern Nevada Conservancy organized volunteers plant 1500 of these slow-growing native plants for National Public Lands Day in 2019. Smaller groups of volunteers were gathered to plant blackbrush, as well as ponderosa pine saplings in higher elevations of the Carpenter 1 burn area.

Volunteers of all ages helped plant 1500 joshua tree seedlings for National Public Lands Day 2019

Trails and roads were also damaged by the fire and floods of 2013. The Harris Springs Road, a backcountry dirt road, required rebuilding. During the restoration, culverts were fixed and added to allow water to flow underneath. To learn more about Harris Springs roads and their unique history, visit our Off-Roading in Harris Springs article. The Harris Springs Road leads adventurists and hikers to the Harris Mountain Road, Griffith Peak trail, the South Loop trail, and Charleston Peak.

Forest Service crews digging and installing culverts on the Harris Springs Road

In September 2020 the Griffith Peak Trail reopened. The Griffith Peak Trail had been damaged by the fire and floods, making it unsafe for hikers, and was closed since 2013. Friends of Nevada Wilderness staff and volunteers gave over 4500 hours in time and removed 200 fallen trees to rebuild the Griffith Peak Trail. Putting in the hard work to recover the trails gives visitors renewed access to this beautiful and serene mountain landscape.

Lots of new informational and wayfinding signage was installed or replaced. New Forest Service road markers have been installed to help visitors stay on the official roads. Use the MVUM maps along with these signs to keep you on the right road. Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Forest Service, and volunteers also worked together to design and install 3 information kiosks on the Harris Springs and Harris Mountain roads. These kiosks help visitors learn about the history and importance of the Spring Mountain Recreation Area, see a map of the backcountry roads, and get tips on how to protect the area with Leave No Trace principals.

Friends of Nevada Wilderness, volunteers, and Forest Service created kiosks to help visitors recreate safely in Harris Springs Canyon. (Photographer Peter Sbraccia, Friends of Nevada Wilderness)

The backbreaking work done on the canyon hillsides by multiple Forest Service, nonprofit, and volunteer crews to stop excess water flow, repair the trails and roads, and plant native plants benefits visitors to the Spring Mountains as well as the residents of Las Vegas, giving them a place to enjoy the scenic beauty, have fun off-roading, and preserve cultural history. This work helped repair the Harris Springs watershed while protecting the residents downstream by limiting the chances of another massive flood event.

You can help the Harris Springs Canyon Watershed recover too!
Join one of the volunteer projects organized throughout the year by groups such as Go MT Charleston with Southern Nevada Conservancy, Friends of Nevada Wilderness, and the Great Basin Institute.

Going on an adventure? Here’s ways you can help the mountain heal!
• Let plants grow! Picking flowers or pinecones in burned areas removes precious native seeds.
• Wash those boots of mud and dirt and don’t give weeds a free ride!
• Pack it in, pack it out. This means to take everything you came with, with you back home. There’s no trash service in the backcountry.
• Follow the Leave No Trace Seven Principles
• Plan Ahead and Prepare: Maps & Guides
• Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
• Dispose of Waste Properly
• Leave What You Find – from rocks to pine cones to flowers to wildlife
• Minimize Campfire Impacts – stop a potential wildfire
• Respect Wildlife
• Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Planning to go off-roading at Mount Charleston? Check out this article all about off-roading and how you can protect the Harris Springs Canyon!

Prevent the next wildfire! On your camping or outing trip please check local fire information to see if you can have a campfire:
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