From the ashes of a devastating fire comes a new visitors center to welcome people from all over the world into the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest – home to some of the oldest living things on Earth.
It has been two years since an alleged arsonist burnt the log cabin structure to the ground, but now funding has been secured and a contractor has been chosen to begin the re-building process.
Bristlecone Pine Forest Ranger John Louth said the bulk of the $1.9 million for the new center was made possible through Forest Service capitol improvement project funds. However, he said it was due to the generous donations from the local community and various organizations that made the federal funding agents “take notice.”
“The local contributions were a huge help. It acted as a kind of seed-money grant,” Louth said. That seed money, he explained, proved to the Forest Service the importance and prominence of the center.
The contractor for the building shares that sentiment. Representatives of AMG Associates, of Santa Clarita, said the president of the company, Albert Giacomazzi, has taken a personal interest in the project, serving as the principal estimator and liaison to the Forest Service.
“We (AMG) know what a big loss the center was for the community,” said Sophia Case of AMG.
The new facility will be similar to the old center, a log cabin-style building, with rough-sawn planks and a rock wall base for increased energy efficiency. There will be an expanded theater/auditorium, holding 27 seats (enough for a classroom full of kids, teachers and chaperones), and a new research library. There will also be an art gallery.
The interpretive exhibits will be handled by contractors Rosene Creative Services located in Jasper, Ga., and work has already begun on the new exhibits.
The handicap-accessible boardwalk, turned to ash in the fire, will be fully reproduced, for viewing of the ancient, twisted pine trees.
Case said by phone Thursday that a key component of the building process will be in maintaining the highest level of resource conservation as possible, per demands from the Forest Service. Case said AMG is committed to addressing the many environmental concerns, “from the protection of wildlife and vegetation during construction to ensuring the new building meets the highest requirements for ‘green building’ practices.”
Louth said the expectation is to achieve the highest possible rating from the Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design, or LEED certification, for the center. Louth said this includes the use of recycled materials or wood from certified, renewable forests during construction as well as the operation of the center. There will be a solar power bank at the center so the center will be off the grid, producing all of its own power.
Case added that AMG spent several weeks researching and addressing every possible aspect of the construction – from transportation of materials to the winter closure to the inherent problems of working at high-altitude – before bidding the job and said it is confident that it will not disappoint. The contracting firm’s technical proposal included a “No Tolerance” smoking and open flame policy as well as a comprehensive plan to ensure visitor access and safety.
While the new 2,100-square-foot center is under construction, the current, temporary visitors center will remain open to the public and access to all trailheads will be maintained. During construction, portions of the parking lot, boardwalk, and picnic area will be closed.
The visitor center, called “the face of the forest” by some staff members, was destroyed by fire, just days before the 50th anniversary commemorating the forest as part of the Forest Service. The blaze in the early morning hours of Sept. 4 destroyed the center and most of the exhibits, including maps and photos, original artwork and one 3,000-year-old Bristlecone pine display slab. Outside structures and trees adjacent to the center were also destroyed including 50 feet of boardwalk and a couple small Bristlecone pine trees. A few picnic tables, interpretive signs and the restrooms were all that remained of the center that was constructed just 15 years prior. Annual visitation to the center and the forest averages more than 30,000.
Construction of the new Bristlecone Visitors Center is set to begin in early 2011. Louth said AMG is very enthusiastic about the project and is hoping for a spring or early summer 2012 grand opening.
“We are all very excited that the entire project is proceeding and look forward to next spring when the building starts to rise,” said Louth.