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New Chapter At Mesa Verde National Park - National Parks Traveler

A long-held dream of superintendents at Mesa Verde National Park is about to come true. Construction workers are putting the finishing touches on the Mesa Verde National Park Visitor and Research Center, a $12.1 million facility set to open November 26.

Unlike the existing Far View Visitor Center, Mesa Verde’s gateway to the park, the new center is clearly visible as you turn south off U.S. Highway 160, in southwest Colorado. The sleek, low-slung building sits perfectly aligned with Point Lookout, the dramatic butte that announces the park’s entrance.

This means visitors will no longer have to travel 15 miles into Mesa Verde’s interior before learning more about the park’s history and the availability of tickets to its various ruins.

“Now, visitors can find out about tours earlier and they’ll have more options,” notes Mesa Verde’s Superintendent Cliff Spencer.

Long Wait For Funding

Former superintendent Larry Wiese, who headed Mesa Verde for 16 years, worked diligently to make the project a reality, notes Superintendent Spencer, who joined the park in 2010. The move had long been on the wish-list of park administrators, but NPS funding issues frequently stymied progress.

Everyone agreed the new location would better serve the park’s 550,000 annual visitors and consolidate Mesa Verde’s sizeable archival collection. But it took Mr. Wiese’s energy “to get the project on the line-item construction list,” Superintendent Spencer notes. The timing of the project was further benefitted by the availability of federal stimulus money and some Washington connections, namely the tie between Colorado Congressman John Salazar and his brother, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

The architectural firm AJC worked closely with the park’s 24 Native American tribes to craft a design for the center, which references the adobe style of the Colorado Plateau’s Puebloan people. The spacious center rotunda is a nod to the kiva, a ceremonial space that here functions as a gathering spot for the public to view exhibits or access the facility’s library and repository.

A new bookstore, which will be run by the Mesa Verde Museum Association, completes the facility, says Association Executive Director Laurel Rematore. The 24,000 square-foot building is highly sustainable, and has been submitted for LEED Platinum certification. Additionally, the center will enable the park’s collection of artifacts and records to be stored under one roof.

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