Lake Norman State Park enthusiasts who have remained patient during a year of construction-related closures are starting to see their eventual reward.
The park’s new 11,000-square-foot visitor center – built on the opposite side of the parking area from the Itusi Trailhead – has a somewhat finished look from the outside and a completion target of late fall.
Park staffers are excited about the building’s green technology, increased roominess and functionality, and improved outdoor education and opportunities for visitors.
The $4 million facility is being built with a goal of attaining Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, said park ranger Jarid Church.
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LEED’s criteria for judging a building’s sustainability include site location, water conservation, energy efficiency, materials and indoor air quality. The visitor center will feature large windows; a plastic foam-insulated roof to maximize coolness in the summer and warmth in the winter; a geothermal system for air conditioning and heating; and water from wells that’s filtered and reused.
Such features will also help educate people about the green features’ many benefits – part of what the park staff says will be a superior educational experience overall. The center will include classrooms, a multipurpose room and an auditorium that school groups can use.
The lobby will include exhibits about the park and Lake Norman’s wildlife.
“The way the exhibits are designed, they encourage people to get out on the discovery trail or other portions of the park and get into the environment and experience the outdoor stuff outdoors,” Church said.
The center – at the first parking lot after the main entrance on State Park Road – replaces “what essentially was a seasonal barracks,” Church said. Part of the building will consist of offices for five park workers, as well as staffers from the western division of N.C. State Parks.
“We’re able to accept visitors easier into a bigger building,” Church said.
After consulting with a facility engineering specialist for the project, Church said the most accurate estimate for the visitor center’s completion is “late fall or early winter. There’s the building itself, and also another construction bid for a discovery trail, which would be a vegetational trail that comes off the building. That would be a separate project.”
Until the facility is ready, several park activities remain on hold. Boat rentals probably won’t return until next year, Church said, given the relative shortness of the season. “We tore that building down for construction, and it will actually operate off the back of the visitor center once it’s complete,” he said.
Because the parking lot is closed for curb, gutter and repaving work, access to the Heron shelter, picnic area, fishing dock and Alder Trail is still restricted. Restrooms remain closed, though portable toilets are available.
“Once that parking lot opens back up, people will be able to park there again and access the trails,” Church said. “They’ll also be able to access Park Lake easier, because right now they can’t park on the side of the road; there’s no real good access to Park Lake and fishing around Park Lake.
“Right now we’re asking everybody to park at the end of State Park Road where the swim beach is, and they have to bike the road back up to the trails, because there’s no other parking lot in between that would facilitate a large group of bikers without hindering other visitors.”
The family campground and group camp facilities are still open and getting regular use, Church said, and the swim beach at the end of State Park Road is open through October.
He thanked visitors for their cooperation during the inconvenience.
“We think it will all be worth it,” he said, “and that 2015 is going to be a great year for the park.”