Coldfoot visitors center opening delayed

Posted: Monday, March 10, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The opening of a $5 million federal visitors center at Coldfoot on the Dalton Highway will be delayed a year.

The Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot will open in 2004 because there wasn't enough money to put anything in it, according to federal officials.

Coldfoot is a truck stop about 250 miles north of Fairbanks on the highway that leads to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. The tiny community serves as a gateway to the Brooks Range.

While the 6,500-square-foot building is almost complete, there are no displays, exhibits or maps for its rooms.

''We were hoping to open this summer but that's not going to happen,'' said Lenore Heppler, a park ranger for the Bureau of Land Management in Fairbanks.

A $475,000 contract for the inside of the visitor center has been awarded and it should be finished sometime in September -- just after the tourist season ends. The visitor center is open only in the summer.

Officials were hoping to have the center, which is being funded and staffed by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, open for summer solstice June 21.

''We'll just pickle the building and plan to open up the following spring,'' Heppler said.

The delay means staff and visitors will have to make do with a 650-square-foot cabin that currently serves as the visitor center. The cabin has just two rooms, one a small office, and one computer. There are no restrooms, just an outhouse.

About 6,000 visitors stop at the center annually.

What it's completed, the new center will include interpretive displays and exhibits to explain life on top of the world, Heppler said. There will be displays on the different ecosystems north of the Arctic Circle and how people value the Arctic, whether to live a subsistence lifestyle or to drill oil wells.

There also will be a trip-planning area where people can spread out and study maps, as well as a theater for guest lectures and other programs.

''The current visitor center is rustic and has a casual, inviting atmosphere,'' said interpretive research specialist Lisa Jodwallis. ''That will change with the new place. It's more formal. It gives us more room to do cool stuff.''

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