New Visitors Center proposed for Timpanogos Caves

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The outdated visitors center at the Timpanogos Cave Monument may be replaced by a new visitors center to make the cave and outdoors an even more enjoyable experience.

Through March 2, the National Park Service will take comments from the public on a newly proposed visitors center at the Timpanogos Cave Monument. In 1991, the old visitors center burned down and now a concessions stand is all that remains of the brick building.

[easyembed field=”Photogallery”]In its stead, a double-wide trailer was put up as a temporary visitors center. That trailer, intended to last for at most three years, has been there for 20 years. ┬áThe ceiling sinks, the floors sag and the doors constantly have to be rehinged to compensate.

Jim Ireland, superintendent of the Timpanogos Cave Monument, said the new visitors center is long overdue. A law was passed years ago requiring park services to develop an inter-agency park office and visitors center.

“That was in 2002,” Ireland said. “They have been doing design on the facility, but they haven’t received any congressional support for the project.”

Ireland said if the funding goes as planned, they probably wouldn’t see the money for at least five years.

The National Park Service has proposed four options for the new visitors center, all of which the public is welcome to comment on.

The first option would involve the construction of a new center at the mouth of American Fork Canyon and provide mandatory shuttle service for cave visitors, to reduce highway congestion. Public parking at the cave trailhead would be eliminated.

The second option is similar to the first, but would only require shuttle service on weekends and holidays. On weekdays, visitors would be able to park at the cave trailhead.

The third option would not include a shuttle service. The center would be built closer to the cave trailhead, but away from the rockfall area the visitors center is currently located under.

The fourth alternative would not include shuttle service and the center would be built close to the current center. The highway and parking would be reconfigured for pedestrian safety.

Ireland said once this “scoping phase” has finished on March 3, they will take public comments and publish a final draft of the proposal.

Mike Gosse, chief ranger at the monument, said the popularity of the monument will promote the prospect of the new visitors center. Gosse said more than 97,000 visitors came to the monument in 2011, and the current visitors center cannot handle that kind of demand.

“There’s only so much we can do to maintain a 20-year-old trailer,” Gosse said.

Gosse said the new center would allow the park service to “enhance the exhibits that often go by the wayside.” The current center has various multimedia exhibits to improve visitors’ experience, but a new center would promote these exhibits, such as interactive touch-screen maps and audio tours.

Kate Lewis, a sophomore from Orem, studying recreation management youth leadership, is an avid hiker who said visitors centers often help with those who aren’t as familiar with the park or monument.

“They can really enhance your experience,” Lewis said. “Often when people have a basic understanding of what exactly it is they’re seeing, they can better appreciate it.”

Ireland said the center may not go up for five to seven years once funding and construction have been sorted out. Gosse said it’s worth it; visitors to the cave should get more than what they do now.

“The American public deserves a better facility than what we can currently provide them,” Gosse said.

Comments may be submitted online through March 3 at parkplanning.nps.gov/tica.

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