New Sand Harbor interpretive center almost finished |

New Sand Harbor interpretive center almost finished

Merry Thomas
Finishes touches are added to the interpretive center at Sand Harbor on Lake Tahoe's northeast shore. Brian D. Schultz Appeal News Service

Those who haven’t been to Lake Tahoe’s Sand Harbor State Park for a while will be surprised to see a new building overlooking Divers Cove.

The new log and stonework visitor’s center, part of the park’s $5 million master plan, will most likely open its doors in late summer 2005, according to Steve Weaver, chief of planning and development for the Nevada Division of Parks.

The master plan originated in 1989-1990 and evolved through five years of planning, said Rick Keller, Park Supervisor. Several kinds of funding were used for the project, according to Weaver.

When the center was proposed in 1997, Tahoe environmental protection plan bond money was allocated and additional funding came through a federal land and conservation Q-1 bond, he said.

Keller said he has seen a lot of changes since 1996 when he started working at the park: New boat docks, the stage and amphitheater, fencing and most recently, the visitors center.

Half of the center will house concessions and the other half will be an interpretive center, depicting the geology and natural history of Tahoe, according to Keller.

He said parks division staff looked at other centers around the lake to get ideas about what to include.

“Nobody else has a complete timeline,” Keller said. “It will be the only year-round, indoor visitors center open to the public.”

The Nevada Parks Division invited people to attend public workshops during the planning phase. The feedback they received revealed that the public wanted an indoor facility where they could buy sodas or ice for coolers.

“It will make the biggest difference this time of year,” Keller said. He said the center will have its biggest impact during the off-season, when people are driving around the lake and looking for something to do

General Contractor United Construction began the nearly $2 million structure about a year and a half ago. The parks division chose the architectural firm of BSA out of San Francisco for the design work.

The firm has experience designing similar visitor centers for the National Park Service and California State Parks, Weaver said.

The visitors center is being constructed in two phases, with phase one – the structure – the last to be completed. The second phase – utility upgrades – were finished first. This includes a $750,000 fire suppression system and electrical lines for both the stage and the center.

“Another $400,000 will go toward the exhibits in the interpretive center,” Weaver explained. The project will go out to bid in a couple of months and the company that wins the contract will be working closely with the architect.

“It’s 95 percent designed,” he said. The interpretive center will depict not only the area’s geology and the formation of Lake Tahoe, but it will depict the area’s cultural history. The area’s early settlement by Washoe tribe members and later the timber barons who supported the Virginia City mining industry will be among the exhibits.

Weaver said planners are leaning toward setting up the concession as a self-funded enterprise, but that will require the Legislature to allocate more money for the project.

The building includes a 2,000 square foot deck with a great view. Although a final decision hasn’t been made yet, the state also might offer the center for group rentals, such as weddings and receptions.

Upcoming Sand Harbor projects include dune restoration and revegetation in the amphitheater area.

“We’ll try to work around Shakespeare,” Weaver said, referring to the July through August Shakespeare at Sand Harbor festival. Plans now are to begin the work in early summer and finish it during the fall. A second project will focus on water-quality control. Sand and oil separators and soil stabilizers will be implemented to meet Tahoe Regional Planning Agency requirements, he explained. This work is projected for summer 2006.

“The work is being done in cooperation with Shakespeare, which is helping fund the work,” Weaver said.

The center’s interpretive center and restrooms will open this summer, but the concession portion of the building will not be completed until summer 2006, Weaver said.