Supes vote of support for American River canyon visitor center concept

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The idea of an American River Canyon Visitor and Interpretive Center may be a long-range dream but it’s already finding some early, high-profile Placer County support. Spearheaded by Christian Valley’s Placer Nature Center and several other interested groups, the canyon center is envisioned as a facility to enhance the public-access experience to the thousands of acres of canyon lands near Auburn, while encouraging understanding and enjoyment of nature, promoting preservation and expanding economic-development opportunities. The canyon center concept has no announced funding or location but has gained early backing from the Placer County Board of Supervisors. The board voted unanimously in a resolution last week to support a canyon visitor center in concept form that would enhance the environmental, economic and social health of the county. Over the past two years, the vision of a canyon visitor center has brought together representatives of several groups – including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire, Auburn Area Recreation and Park District and the Placer Land Trust – to analyze and discuss the idea. Leslie Warren, Placer Nature Center executive director, said that while the shift in the area’s economic climate has slowed progress, the idea remains valid as a long-range vision. “Despite the economic climate, we just have keep dreaming,” Warren said. The county board resolution states that the center is consistent with both tourism goals and economic development interests. Finding the right land for the center is one challenge, say canyon preservation proponents. Warren said 16 sites are being considered, , including the possibility of partnering with Cal Fire on a location in Bowman on the lip of the canyon. Jeff Darlington, Placer Land Trust executive director, said that his group has been asked about available land but hasn’t identified any that would be considered an ideal spot. Darlington said his group isn’t an active participant in any drive for the center but would be willing to help preserve land in the future for a site. Roger Groghan, whose junior ranger program brings children into the canyon every summer, said a facility enhancing education opportunities in the Auburn State Recreation Area and vicinity would be a good thing. “I’d have to think about that (an ideal location for a facility),” Groghan said. “Ideally, it would be near the confluence but I’m not sure where you could put that because there’s not a lot of flat ground there.” The Auburn State Recreation Area headquarters is located along a stretch of Highway 49 leading into the canyon. Groghan said that could be another potential location if there is room. An interpretive center would also have to be located near trails, Groghan said. Another possibility could be at the Auburn dam overlook off Pacific Avenue in Auburn, he added. Jan Decker, Placer County tourism CEO, said that he’s sat in on early discussions. Decker said the possibility of having several different government and private functions under one roof would be something that – on paper – appears to be worth a continuing look. The Placer County Visitors Bureau is considering the possibility of moving from its current quarters on Lincoln Way at the Foresthill exit but Decker said he wouldn’t be waiting to see how far the canyon center proposal goes before moving on relocating its own facility. “It looks like it’s further down the road,” Decker said.