The Carl Hayden Visitor Center held its grand reopening ceremony last week, marking an event that’s been 10 years in the making.
During the visitor center’s long history, it has had several temporary interpretive displays but this is the first time the displays have been fully replaced since the visitor center opened in 1968. The new visitor center features more interactive and tactile displays designed to give visitors a more engaging and broader educational experience.
“We think the exhibits will inspire and educate a lot of people in the coming years,” said Christiana Admiral, chief of interpretation at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
The old visitor center focused more on the dam itself, how it was constructed and its functions regarding water storage and electrical production. That story is still told at the new visitor center but it’s now just one part of the its larger narrative.
The new visitor center features displays about the Colorado Plateau’s geology, including its formation and subsequent erosion, it’s flora and fauna, which highlights some of the area’s most famous species, and examines its ongoing conservation efforts of its native plants and animals, such as condors and humpback chubs, and efforts to prevent and eradicate invasive species such as tamarisk trees and quagga mussels.
The new displays are arrayed in the visitor center’s east wing with its stunning views directly overlooking Glen Canyon and the Glen Canyon dam. The displays are arranged in two concentric circles.
As tourists continue around the circle, they’ll also find displays about the area’s early pioneers and explorers including John Wesley Powell and other early river runners to Mormon settlers.
Just past this display, visitors will find a kiosk that tells the story of seven Native American tribes that have connections to the region.
The most popular display demonstrates how the dam’s hydro-electric turbines create electricity. The display includes a wheel that people can turn, which works on the same principal of falling water turning the plant’s turbines. The energy people generate from spinning the wheel causes the kiosk to light up.
The Glen Canyon Natural History Association gives tours of the dam and provides the tour guides to do so.
Amanda Boston, program coordinator for the Glen Canyon Natural History Association, said she’s impressed with the visitor center’s more well-rounded message, and the way it tackles some of the region’s complex and controversial issues.
“Tourists visting the area have a lot of questions about water storage and usage,” she said, “and a lot of them express an interest in restoring the Colorado River to its former undammed, wild state.
“Wild and scenic rivers are an important part of the American identity, but with a growing population, we also need water storage. I think the displays and our tour guides do a great job telling both of those stories. If you don’t address those issues here, where will you tell them?”
The visitor center upgrade was a collaboration between the National Park Service and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
“Both agencies have a different mission and it was fun to bring them together and meld their stories,” said Admiral.
No taxpayer money was spent on the upgrade. Half the money came from entrance fees, the other half from the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA).
The process of upgrading the visitor center began 10 years ago, said Admiral.
Anyone familiar with federal bureaucracy knows such decisions and their implementation have numerous layers and filters which involve gathering public input, focus groups, finding funding, and putting out bids for contractors.
But once all that was in place demolishing the old displays and installing the new ones moved pretty quickly.
Demolition of the old displays began last November, after which work on the new displays began.
During last week’s grand reopening ceremony, Marlon Duke, public affairs officer for the Upper Colorado Region of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation gave the welcome address.
This was followed by the Page High School Band playing the national anthem.
William Shott, superintendant for Glen Canyon NRA, Jason Tucker, Field Division Manager for Glen Canyon Dam, Rick Frost, associate regional director of communication for the National Park Service also spoke.
The keynote speaker was David Murillo, acting commissioner, U.S. Bureau or Reclamation.
Louise Tallman, a leader from the San Juan Southern Paiute, gave a blessing over the day.
The Carl Hayden Visitor Center is visited by more than 600,000 people per year.