Yellowstone Seeks More Comment on Visitor Center

Fri June 27, 2003 - National Edition

Yellowstone officials are asking for another round of public comment on the proposed 43,000-sq-.ft ”education center’ near the famous geyser.

The center would include more exhibit space, an auditorium, classroom,research library and educational bookstore. Plans are to remove the current center, built in 1971, because it lacks space for exhibits and growing crowds. Two adjacent theaters would also be removed.

About 85 percent of Yellowstone’s more than 3 million annual visitors stop at Old Faithful. In July and August, nearly 25,000 people visit the 14,000-sq.-ft. center daily. Many leave without a basic understanding of the complexity of the geysers or volcanic activity that define the park, officials say.

Comments offered in 2000 on proposed renovations raised concerns about architectural design and potential effect on hydrothermal resources and the area’s sewage systems.

”Much progress has occurred since that time, both in the project’s development and in addressing the initial concerns raised,’ park officials said in a release.

Any construction will be done in a way that does not affect underlying geothermal resources, Superintendent Suzanne Lewis said.

Monitors installed last year will detect fluid movements to ensure that shallow underground flow paths will not be affected, officials said. Soil testing in fall 2000 showed favorable conditions for construction.

In addition, it was found that a drainage swale next to the existing center had been filled in, possibly during construction, and removal of those deposits would allow for design of a lower level without having to excavate a basement.

A new wastewater treatment facility was completed last fall that meets water quality standards for Wyoming ground waters, officials said.

The current center is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and the park has been working with the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation since 1999 on how best to document demolition of the center, Lewis said.

In addition, the park will continue to work with those entities to ensure the new center will be compatible with the architectural character of the Old Faithful Historic District.

In 2000, the center was expected to cost $18 million, but lack of funds slowed the project. The latest design could cost that amount or more,spokeswoman Marsha Karle said.

Private funding would cover the bulk of the cost. No date for completion has been offered.