Governor Jerry Brown’s Parks Plan Good for New Donner Party Museum

The 10,000-sq. ft. (929 sq m) center is scheduled to open in late spring along Interstate 80 near Truckee.

📅   Thu April 16, 2015 - West Edition
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The Donner Party was a group of American pioneers who set out for California in a wagon train.
The Donner Party was a group of American pioneers who set out for California in a wagon train.

TRUCKEE, Calif. (AP) California parks officials say Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget would make it possible to nearly double the operating hours planned at a new visitor’s center and museum at Donner Memorial State Park north of Lake Tahoe.

The 10,000-sq. ft. (929 sq m) center is scheduled to open in late spring along Interstate 80 near Truckee.

The $113 billion budget blueprint Brown unveiled earlier this month has $37 million for state parks, including $424,000 for the new building. The ill-fated Donner Party crossed the desert in Utah and Nevada in 1846 before becoming stranded in a winter storm near the site in the Sierra Nevada, resulting in dozens of deaths and evidence of cannibalism.

Vicky Waters, deputy director of public affairs for California State Parks, said if the Legislature approves the $424,000, it would go toward center operations, allowing the center at the state park east of Donner Lake to be open seven days a week.

Without the money, she said it will open four days a week, supported by existing department funding. Specific operational days have yet to be identified, but would include popular visitation days, she said.

“We’re very thankful that the governor identified this particular project, and we’ll just have to see if it materializes at the end of the legislative process,” Waters told the Sierra Sun.

Lawmakers are expected to complete a final state budget to submit to Brown for his approval in June.

The $6 million building will feature interactive exhibits, including those on the Donner Party, regional Native American history, railroad development through Donner Pass and Interstate 80 construction. It will replace the current Emigrant Trail Museum.

Construction began in May 2011 at a time when the California State Parks system was struggling financially, Waters said. It was completed in the summer of 2013. But the opening has been delayed for a number of reasons, including bad weather, design challenges and an appeal filed against the awarding of a contract for a museum exhibit.

Once it opens, the Emigrant Trail Museum building will be used for archival storage, training and office and meeting place.