Sparks Marina: A Glo-up Tale for the Ages

From rock quarry to Toxic Superfund site to ideal work-play-live bubble, the Sparks Marina has seen it all.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Janusz Sobolewski

Sparks Marina is such a delightful destination today, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t always so picturesque. Actually, forget picturesque; once upon a time, Sparks Marina was a 100-foot-deep quarry pit known as Helms Pit. (See a picture of the pit here.)

From 1968 until 1987, Helms Pit provided rock for road and construction projects in the area. In the final functioning year, however, City of Sparks officials found petroleum products seeping through the southwest walls of the pit. It turned out there’d been a spill at the fuel-tank farm one mile away and its contamination had spread. Thus, the pit was dubbed a Toxic Superfund site (meaning the hazardous materials needed a long-term cleanup response) and a large cleanup was initiated.

Finally, in 1995, the site’s groundwater was reported petrochemical-free and the City of Sparks took the ownership reins.

Still with us? Hold tight because we’re not even finished.

Sparks already had the vision of today’s park in mind. With the spill mitigation money the city received from those who caused the contamination, a park was constructed and the pit was turned into a space for a recreational pond. The plan: Fill the pit with water to a depth of ~30 feet, which would take a number of years. A park and a modest lake — sounds great.

But Mother Nature stepped in.

In January 1997, the Truckee River overflowed to its highest point in recorded history, and one billion gallons of water made its way straight into Helms Pit. In just two days the pit was completely full of water. All 100 feet and 77 surface acres. The Sparks Marina was a gift from Mother Nature herself.

The Truckee River overflowed in January 1997, AKA the “New Year’s Flood, to fill in the 100-foot-deep Helms Pit. Photo credit to the Nevada Department of Transportation.

And the gifts keep on giving. The marina is a natural aquifer, meaning it contains or transmits groundwater. The marina itself holds about one billion gallons of water, with one to three million more gallons coming in through groundwater daily. To keep things from overflowing, Sparks pumps between one and two million gallons of water back into the Truckee River each day. Ahhhh, the circle of life.

University of Nevada, Reno students practicing at Sparks Marina for a Concrete Canoe Competition.

Today the Sparks Marina is known and loved by all. Not only is there a park with beaches, picnic areas, courts, a dog park, a fishing pier, and concession stands to name a few; but stores, restaurants, condos, and the adjacent Outlets at Legends. Plenty of people spend time in the water as well, kayaking, sailing, and wakeboarding.

If you’re in the mood to fish, such species as Rainbow, cutthroat, and brown trout, spotted bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, green sunfish, channel catfish, bullhead catfish, and carp can all be found in the marina.

Special events take place regularly, including Free Fishing Day for kids in June and a Turkey Trot in November.


The Sparks Marina: Past, Present, Future

Sparks Marina Park and Helms Lake

Backyard Traveler by Rich Moreno

Sparks Marina Park Pond

Superfund | US EPA

Cover photo courtesy Flickr user Paul Hurtado.