Visitor center at Heavenly Village is taking shape |

Visitor center at Heavenly Village is taking shape

Susan Wood
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / United States Forest Service Information Assistant Lindsay Pecoraro, behind the counter, helps people find hiking trails Thursday at the visitor center at Heavenly Village.

From a vacant empty shell in the beginning to what it is now – a full-fledged information clearing house for all things Tahoe – the evolving center installed at Heavenly Village in the South Lake Tahoe transit station building is getting its share of curious visitors.

A cooperative agreement between the city, state and U.S. Forest Service and $1.4 million are going toward efforts to make the center an urban trailhead where the hordes of people staying in the city’s primary bedbase will know where to go to appreciate the grandeur of Tahoe.

The project called “Explore Tahoe” plans to do just that.

Current displays feature animal tracks, examples of bark found from the trees, the color of the lake in four blues and how to bear proof a camp site. There are also activities on tap in which visitors may go kayaking with a ranger or on a wildflower hike.

And the place is a work in progress – with permanent displays with a stream-type theme on the way by spring of 2008. This includes a suspended secci disc, a tool scientists use to measure Lake Tahoe clarity.

“This is a place where people come and learn. It’s very hands-on. Kids can come in here and know what a bear looks like,” said Forest Service staffer Laurel Owen, a botanist and naturalist who’s lived in El Dorado County for 20 years. “The bus schedule was the trickiest thing for (me to learn).”

Owen said that since the Forest Service has staffed the center this summer many people have gotten the scoop on where to go in Tahoe for various desires. Some simply want to know when the bus will pull up.

The center – built as a transit station where buses circle and stop outside – is sandwiched between the Cecil’s Fountain Plaza and the Marriott-anchored Heavenly Village, a $250 million public-private redevelopment project. As part of that project, the city’s $7 million transit station was built but left vacant when utility costs rose. The city was forced to lock the building and leave it vacant until the California Tahoe Conservancy came forward with state money, a commitment and other interested agencies and companies.

To help offset the cost, Heavenly Mountain Resort is renting the upstairs to house employee lockers. And the Forest Service offered to staff the venue.

The city contracted with designer Deb Vreeland for about $80,000 to come up with a long-term plan for the building and entryway.

“There’s no comparison to what it was last summer,” said City Councilwoman Kathay Lovell, who also serves on the CTC board.

U.S. Forest Service visitor center

Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. midweek

9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sunday

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