The Centennial, Wyo., visitor center is a one-stop shop for anything forest-related a visitor might need — permits, maps, books, information, even souvenirs.
The Laramie Boomerang reported that Marla Williams, who works in visitor information services for the U.S. Forest Service, remembers one Fourth of July when more than 200 people stopped in as they drove past on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway.
“When people are on the mountain, they want to buy things,” she joked.
The center, sitting on the eastern boundary of the Medicine Bow National Forest near Centennial, used to be a decades-old trailer. After two summers of construction, the trailer is gone and a brand new building is set to be open by this winter.
The 1,100-square-foot building will feature an open central room with tall south-facing windows. Forest service personnel will be stationed behind a counter that lines the western wall.
“It’ll be big enough to accommodate a good amount of guests. We’re hoping to use it as an education area,” Aaron Voos, a public affairs official for the forest service, said.
Outside, the parking area was repaved, and a walking path will lead down the hill behind the building.
The visitor center will be open seasonally to coincide with the opening of the highway — generally from May through October. It will also be open in the winter so forest visitors may purchase Christmas tree permits on their way up to the mountains to cut one down.
The new visitor center might be the most noticeable change on the forest, but it’s just one piece in a series of projects along the Snowy Range Scenic Byway.
The other big project was the paving of the first half-mile of Sand Lake Road, which was completed in early August. The road, Forest Road 101, offers access to the northern part of the forest as well as the North Fork Campground. A number of dispersed camping spots near the highway are heavily used by campers with trailers.
A smooth layer of asphalt now covers what used to be a rutted dirt road that climbed north from the highway a few miles west of Centennial. Voos said the popular road was impossible to keep smooth.
“We would grade it, and a week later it would be right back to the rutted condition it was in before we graded it,” he said.
Other scenic byway improvement projects, some of which are still ongoing, include paving the trail between Lake Marie and Mirror Lake, fixing damage on Barber Lake Road caused by flooding, and adding new signage along the highway.
The $2.8 million project was funded with help from a grant from the Wyoming Department of Transportation, which used money from the Federal Highways National Scenic Byway Program.