New visitor center opening at Old Faithful

Posted 8/24/10

The new building features a spacious lobby with visitor information and a view of Old Faithful, a 4,500 square foot exhibit hall with interactive and static displays that explain the park's hydrothermal features and the volcano that powers …

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New visitor center opening at Old Faithful


With a tall, floor-to-ceiling wall of windows showcasing Yellowstone National Park's most famous geyser, the park's newest visitor center will open at Old Faithful on Wednesday, Aug. 25. A public grand opening dedication ceremony marks the event at 11 a.m. The opening celebrates the completion of a 10-year-plus effort to fund and build the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, which replaces a smaller, obsolete visitor center built in 1972.

The new building features a spacious lobby with visitor information and a view of Old Faithful, a 4,500 square foot exhibit hall with interactive and static displays that explain the park's hydrothermal features and the volcano that powers them.

In addition:

• A diorama of a thermal area will help visitors discover living creatures found in and near some of the most extreme habitats that exist on earth.

• A Young Scientist room includes a working geyser model that, when altitude adjustments are completed, will allow children and the young at heart to predict Old Faithful Geyser and perform other scientific investigations. The room also can be used as a classroom for school classes and groups.

• Two educational films will be shown several times daily in the building's auditorium, and a resource room on the building's second floor will facilitate in-depth studies by researchers.

• A virtual learning center provides links to lifelong learning about Yellowstone National Park from home.

Fundraising for the new center began in 2000, with the Yellowstone Park Foundation raising $15 million by 2005, said Karen Bates Kress, president of the foundation, which serves as the park's fundraising partner.

Kress said the foundation's fundraising efforts began when “the Park Service came and said they wanted to make it fantastic — can you help?”

Corporate gifts of $1 million or more came from ConocoPhillips, Unilever, the Coca-Cola Foundation and Toyota Motor Sales, USA; a grant from the National Science Foundation paid for state-of-the-art educational exhibits; and individual provided 400 financial contributions.

Thanks in large part to those donations, “this is an education center as opposed to the typical visitor center where they hand out brochures and visitors ask questions,” Kress said.

The remaining $12 million of the $27 million cost to build the center was approved through the National Park Service's line item construction program in 2006, according to a news release from the Park Service.

That all took place after “countless cups of coffee and countless trips to Washington D.C. to get the project approved,” said Al Nash, spokesman for the Park Service in Yellowstone.

Nash led a tour of the new facility for the media Thursday.

Before construction could begin, research was necessary to study geothermal activity and historical archives, and to perform an archaeological survey.

Efforts also focused on designing a building that would fit in with the historic district — to complement, but not copy, existing structures at Old Faithful, Nash said.

“We spent a lot of time with the State Historic Preservation Office,” he said.

The result is a 60-foot tall building that is impressive, but by design, still shorter than the historic, 90-foot tall Old Faithful Inn. The foundation of the new building is shallow, preventing damage to underground hydrothermal systems.

Construction began in spring 2008 and continued year-round.

“They've been trying to put a building up in temperatures from 30 below (zero) to 90 degrees above,” park spokesman Al Nash said during a media preview on Thursday. “Then there's that, ‘You have to travel by snowmobile or snowcoach' thing for part of the year.”

CTA Architects Engineers of Billings served as the architect for the project. Swank Enterprises Inc. of Valier, Mont., is general contractor, and mechanical engineer Peter Galindo served as project manager for the National Park Service.

Christopher Chadbourne & Associates Inc. of Boston was the exhibit planning and design firm, with Linda Young of the National Park Service serving as chief of interpretation.

The new visitor education center earned a gold certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). More than 99 percent, or 4,800 tons, of the construction waste was recycled. That included concrete from the old visitor center, which was crushed on site and used as backfill, the release said.

The Old Faithful Visitor Education Center will serve approximately 2.6 million on-site visitors and tens of millions of online visitors annually.

Research shows four of every five visitors to Yellowstone National Park also visit Old Faithful, Nash said.

“We had a record year in 2009, with 3.3 million people visiting the park,” he said. “This year will probably equal or break that.”

“This new building is going to serve our visitors for several decades,” Nash said.

He noted that Old Faithful is the most frequently visited site in the park.

“I look at this as a launching pad for visitors. After spending time here, you better understand what you see. We expect it will prompt people to look at other things in other areas.

Dedication ceremony details

Wednesday's dedication ceremony of the new Old Faithful Visitor Education Center begins at 11 a.m. in front of the building near Old Faithful Geyser.

Two yellow buses will provide free shuttle service to and from parking lots in the area before and after the ceremony.

Yellowstone historian Paul Schullery will give the keynote address. Tom Strickland, assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks; Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service and Bannus Hudson, chairman of the Yellowstone Park Foundation, also will offer remarks.

The event will open with music from the Wyoming National Guard's 67th Army Band, and the presentation of the colors by the Yellowstone National Park Mounted Color Guard.

Those unable to attend the ceremony will be able to watch it live on the Old Faithful webcam at