New Visitor Center Coming To South Shore

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Thirty years after it first was proposed, the U.S. Forest Service hopes to build a new visitor-information center on the south end of Lake Tahoe.

The agency wants to construct a 12,000-square-foot building near existing facilities at Taylor Creek just west of South Lake Tahoe.

"Lake Tahoe is a world-class destination and we need a world-class visitors center here," Mike St. Michel, Forest Service visitor center director, said Thursday.

The agency started developing the site in the 1960s. It already includes a parking lot, interpretive trails, an amphitheater and a stream-profile chamber where visitors can view what happens below the creek's surface.

A small building with restrooms also was built, but federal funding fell through before the visitor center became a reality.

The agency is accepting comments through June 5 on an environmental analysis of the impacts of such a facility, which is expected to cost between $2 million and $3 million, said Jackie Faike, Forest Service interpretive program manager.

Since 1967, the agency has used the small, teepee shaped building, operating a small information counter in a 200-square-foot room meant for storage.

"The little building was never intended to be used as a visitors center when it was built. The visitors center was never built," St. Michel told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

The Taylor Creek area includes several short hiking trails, a wildlife-viewing area and the popular stream-profile chamber.

Each fall, the lake's kokanee salmon swim upstream to reproduce, filling the stream with red fish and creating a popular tourist attraction.

Agency officials said the current building has been inadequate for years.

"We don't anticipate bringing more folks to the site. We just think we can do a better job educating them with exhibits and information," Faike said "We feel like our capacity is pretty good where it is. Let's focus on the quality."

The building likely won't be constructed for several years, she said. It would include a classroom, exhibits, a small audio-visual area and a place to pick up camping permits for Desolation Wilderness.

While the current center focuses on Taylor Creek, the new center would feature the entire lake basin.

The existing Taylor Creek center is open from Memorial Day weekend through the end of October. Officials said the new facility would allow the agency to open during holiday weekends and busy tourist times during the winter months.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)