Sand Harbor visitors center opens |

Sand Harbor visitors center opens

Andrew Pridgen

North Lake Tahoe Bonanza

In 1990, the state of Nevada came up with a master plan for its parks. This included a visitor center for Sand Harbor that would be one part museum, one part conference center and one part restaurant/venue for sundry items.

That was 17 years ago.

Friday, that dream on Tahoe’s East Shore became a reality as Gov. Jim Gibbons was on-hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon and officially open the $5.1 million, 5,000-square-foot Visitors Center overlooking the sun-bleached boulders and pristine blue waters of the Nevada side of the lake.

“I spent all of my youth and hopefully the rest of my adult life enjoying what we have here at Lake Tahoe,” Gibbons said. “It is our state’s mission to have the public see what George Whittell saw. I am here today to see the growth and change of Lake Tahoe.”

Indeed, over the almost two decades of planning, the center, which features a modern kitchen and bar – with a store selling everything from aspirin to two-person blow-up rafts and high-end wines.

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Parks officials, some of whom had been working on the project but never envisioned the final, upscale product.

“When this started I envisioned a place where you could buy nachos,” joked Nevada Division of State Parks Administrator Dave Morrow. “Fortunately, there were other people involved and I got out of the way – and the finished product was much, much more I think than anyone expected.”

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources representative Alan Biaggi said Sand Harbor is the “jewel of the state park system” in Nevada, lauding the collaborative effort which went into funding the project.

To offset the cost to of construction of the visitor’s center parks used funds from the Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program, the Nevada 2002 Conservation Bond, a Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant, the Nevada Tahoe License Plate Fund and the State Parks Utility Surcharge Fund.

“There was a huge desire and a goal to have this type of upscale facility,” Morrow said. “When people come to Tahoe they expect a little something more and we wanted to deliver.”

Janette Bonaldi who runs the Harbor House Bistro, the restaurant portion of the center which she and her husband lease back from the state, said bringing in great food and a good atmosphere is something that is a “long-time coming” for Sand Harbor visitors.

“Was it a lot of work getting to today? You bet,” she said. “But, I think this is an example of a partnership that can work and will work. We’re just happy to be here in this beautiful spot – and we’re looking forward to sharing that.”