Although tourism is Del Norte's largest private sector employer, many think it could be much stronger.
Various organizations hope to boost tourism with a new multi-agency visitor center on the highway by Crescent City Harbor.
"I really believe that this community is in need of the tourism dollars that we ... somehow are not able to capture," said Harbor Commissioner Wes White on Tuesday when the commission heard an update on the visitor center project.
Fourteen agencies have signed on to be a part of the Interagency Visitor Center, which would be built on harbor land between the inner boat basin and U.S. Highway 101.
The idea is to have a one-stop shop for tourism information right
off the highway, encouraging more enjoyable and longer visits to Del
An existing information center on the first floor of the Redwood
National and State Parks headquarters in downtown Crescent City wasn't
designed to be a visitor center, parks officials said.
"Even though we're only a block off the highway, I think a lot of
people don't stop by our visitor center or the Chamber of Commerce"
visitor center on Front Street, said Candace Tinkler of RNSP. Currently
visitor centers in the county attract 50,000 to 100,000 visitors a year.
A design has not been finalized, but thanks to the Interagency
Visitor Center's design committee and pro-bono work from Hilary Baker
of Crow/Clay and Associates architecture, there is a working design
The proposed two-story facility would contain 13,000-15,000 square
feet of space and link the county's natural and cultural resources
together with a "watershed" theme. Most of the facility would be
dedicated to displays and interpretative information about the county's
natural and cultural resources.
A 120-seat auditorium has also been proposed to show films and
presentations on what Del Norte has to offer. The design concept also
calls for a gift shop, conference center, restrooms and some office
The facility would be designed to easily accommodate tour buses and
The IAVC Design Committee is looking at a $7 million to 9 million
price tag to build the center, but Redwood National Park has agreed to
fund the daily operation and maintenance of the center - a significant
benefit for landing grants the project needs to get off the ground and
for its future viability, planners said.
"It amounts to a lot of money over the life of a building," said
Grant Werschkull, who was hired to facilitate meetings between the IAVC
On Tuesday, harbor commissioners questioned the projected expense of
building the facility, with costs estimated at $500 to 600 a square
Werschkull said he is optimistic about fundraising, especially with
14 agencies on board.
"This is not an ordinary county with ordinary resources," Werschkull
said. "It's an extraordinary county in terms of natural resources and
cultural heritage, and I think we'll be very competitive" in landing
Harbor planner Ernie Perry, who is on the design committee of the
project, told harbor commissioners the building needs to draw people off
the highway. Now is not the time to look at scaling back the project,
he said, adding that can be done later if necessary.
"There's a reason why Trees of Mystery has Paul Bunyan and Babe the
Blue Ox along the highway," Perry said. "It works pretty good at pulling
people off the road."
Commissioner White said his hesitation on price came from the fact
that he wants to see the project come to fruition.
"I'd rather have something there that is not quite as nice but is
real, rather than something that is a dream and stays a nightmare,"
Werschkull said that the current cost figure hasn't scared potential
grant providers in his initial talks, and they will recognize the
importance such a center could have for the community.
"This is the type of facility that matches the base of our economy,"
Werschkull said. "It's our future."
Redwood National Park, Smith River Alliance and the harbor district
have provided the funding to date for planning and design.
The project is still in its early stages, with the next steps being a
finalized design, completing environmental compliance requirements, and
forging a memorandum of understanding that lays out the roles and level
of involvement of each agency.
Werschkull said he hopes the facility will be up and running by 2016,
the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Harbor officials
hope it will be sooner to show off their new inner boat basin slated to
be complete in 2013.
Organizations on board include the California Coastal National
Monument of the Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Fish
and Game's local wildlife areas, Redwood Coast Sector of California
Department of Parks and Recreation, City of Crescent City, Crescent
City/Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce, Crescent City Harbor
District, Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, Elk Valley Rancheria
Tribal Council, Redwood National Park of the National Park Service,
Smith River Rancheria, Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority, Castle
Rock National Wildlife Refuge of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
Smith River National Recreation Area of the U.S. Forest Service and the
Yurok Tribal Council.
Reach Adam Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org .