Visitor centers supply many needs
Visitors to Lake Tahoe may stop for more than blue water.
It appears many make rush calls to the restrooms at visitor centers scattered around the basin.
In Meyers, 70 percent of visitors to the decade-old small center the Forest Service opens in the three summer months beginning Memorial Day weekend say they use it for access to the restrooms. This is according to a study conducted by a Sacramento design firm for the California Tahoe Conservancy. About a third allow relief for their dogs.
The Meyers rush to the facilities became apparent during the holidays when a flood of travelers broke the toilets because of overuse at the Chevron station. The filling station brought in the portable variety until repairs were made.
The long mountain drive west of Meyers and traffic backup on busy weekends turns the heads of many motorists traveling through the area.
“The No. 1 question we have is, ‘Where’s the bathroom?’ ” said Jackie Faike, Forest Service interpretive specialist. “It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of (sociological) needs. People can’t see until they take care of basic functional needs.”
A who’s who list of federal, state and local agencies have been evaluating the feasibility of building a new visitor center for the Meyers Roundtable at Highway 50 near the agricultural checkpoint – among other South Shore locations. The conservancy presented the EDAW study to the Roundtable group a few weeks ago.
“Being the gateway into the community, we feel it would be good for the South Shore,” said Sue Novasel, who serves on the Roundtable board. “There’s a need for restrooms. We hope to at least double the size (of the current center). Sometimes we get a line of up to 20 people.”
Restrooms may get people to stop. Novelty items may get them to shop. But learning about the area still tops the list of trends in which travelers experience their destinations, according to tourism officials nationwide.
And Meyers is but one location the agencies are looking at as prospects for visitors to experience the diverse history and attractions in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
The city-run Lake Tahoe Airport and Transit Center at Heavenly Village near Stateline, as well as the proposed California-Nevada Bistate Park behind the Marriott-anchored complex, have also been identified as adequate sites for some form of visitor center.
“We want to ensure we don’t duplicate our efforts,” Ray Lacey of the CTC said, adding the need to pinpoint the ideal locations because visitor centers can be expensive to execute and run.
Estimates for visitor centers measuring over 6,000 square feet amount to about $3.5 million. Sand Harbor’s center due for completion June 2005 is expected to cost at least $5 million.
Lacey said the state agency may secure up to $20,000 in grant funding to erect an environmentally-related display at the transit center where visitors can learn about subjects like lake clarity.
The idea is one that city officials appear interested in. It’s one of the goals of Councilwoman Kathay Lovell.
“This is coming around. The Meyers center already serves 75,000 people in the summer. Could you imagine if it was open year-round?” Lovell asked.
According to Tahoe Regional Planning Agency statistics, 20 million people visit the basin each year. Over a third enter the basin from the west via Highway 50.
Recreation and interpretive outposts and kiosks have been developed around the basin. Chambers of commerce feature the majority of visitor centers at the lake.
“I wish we had more money to advertise this one,” said Kathy Farrell, executive director of the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce. The visitor center is run out of the Round Hill chamber.
It sees a range of 300 people on a busy August weekend day to 15 people in slow times.
-Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at email@example.com