Mesa Verde National Park opened its new visitor and research center last Friday following a planning process that Superintendent Cliff Spencer says "started in the 1930s, when the superintendent's report noted the need for a visitor contact station near the park entrance."
The new facility, located just off US 160 at the park entrance, is 20 miles from the park's developed areas around the cliff dwellings on Chapin and Wetherill Mesas.
Three major goals influenced the design of the visitor and research center:
to provide visitor services near the park entrance,
to provide safe and modern storage for the park's research collection of more than 3 million items and associated archives, and
to provide better access to the research collections for researchers and specialists.
Representatives from the 24 tribes associated or affiliated with Mesa Verde contributed to the building and exhibits design. The facility implements several alternative energy systems, including a 100 kw solar energy field, geothermal wells to precondition building air, a micro turbine on the park's raw water line, and a solar-heated water system for the restrooms and exterior snow melt on sidewalks. Platinum-level LEED standards were followed in building orientation, sourcing materials, handling waste, and lighting and water fixtures.
The new visitor center replaces the aging Far View Visitor Center, located 15 miles from the park entrance. The all-new exhibits include four life-size dioramas and a variety of flat panel and interactive exhibits that help tell the story of Mesa Verde.
Unlike the old visitor center, the new facility will be open year round. All of the services that have been offered at the Far View VC will be offered at the new facility – tickets for ranger-guided tours to the cliff dwellings, visitor information and orientation, and a Mesa Verde Museum Association bookstore.
The new building serves both the visitor services and research support functions, with about 8,000 square feet dedicated to visitor services and about 15,000 square feet dedicated to collections and archives storage and workspace for the park curator and researchers. Since there's very little other office space, park headquarters remains on Chapin Mesa.