Proposed NBR visitor center design lacking, new design wanted that better reflects the area and the range

Char-Koosta News 

MOIESE — The rectangular floor plan footprint proposed for the National Bison Range visitor center looks like it was drawn by a first-year drafting-student on grid paper. Its mundane design resembles a FIMA trailer-house with a couple of knockouts that look like squared off rectangular elephant ears.

That design was presented to a group of interested parties last week at a meeting at the NBR visitor center. The existing 38-year-old visitor center that has outlived its design life is scheduled for replacement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has Congressional appropriated funds in its budget to accomplish that. 

National Bison Range manager Amy Coffman said the proposed design with a smaller floor plan than the current visitor center does not fit the natural ambiance of the area, and is not very eye appealing — it is rote dull.  

She was not alone in her observation; all of the dozen folks there also felt it was a bland building design that doesn’t capture the spirit of the NBR and the natural landscape of the area. It is also smaller than the present visitor center and couldn’t adequately serve the 180,000 tourists that annually visit the NBR. Those numbers are predicted to grow well into the future. 

The USFWS has recently released its 15-year NBR management plan, and a cookie cutter visitor center plan is inadequate to begin with and will certainly grow in its inadequacy in the future as more and more tourists flock to the NBR. The proposed visitor center has a 300-feet movie and presentation room for instance. Certainly not enough seating room for peak traffic or even off-season traffic wanting to take part in presentations in it. Just think in terms of 10-feet by 30-feet and you get the picture.

Coffman received the floor plans from the Denver Regional Office in an e-mail message.  

“It’s not adequate for our needs,” she said, adding that there are only two public bathrooms, one for each gender. “Congress has told us what we need and why. We should be telling them what is needed and why.”

The design and lack of adequate floor space and bathrooms are somewhat of a speed bump on the road to carrying out the goals of the 15-year management plan.

“We want to have a building that better handles the things we want to do and the tourist traffic,” Coffman said. Some of the things she wants to accomplish with the new management plan is tribal related cultural and educational presentations as well as the overall rural culture. That could become a drawing point for tourists that would put a little spike in the area economy. She wants to get ahead of those types of plans with a building that would meet the future needs of the NBR.

NBR Wildlife Biologist Amy Lisk said all USFWS look alike with standard floor plans.

NRD Wildlife Program manager Dale Becker said the present design looks like a motel and that a better design is needed, especially one with a static design where rooms could meet the needs of evolving or revolving presentations and one that fits the landscape of the area. 

“If people come to the visitor center there should be a whole gamut of information available and one that can handle rotating displays,” Becker said. 

The discussions at the meeting will be further discussed in a follow up meeting next Thursday. The meeting will include a local architect that can suggest alternatives for the visitor center.

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