GERING — Construction on a 3,000 square-foot addition to the visitor center at Scotts Bluff National Monument is on track and visitor numbers remain strong during the project.
Monument Superintendent Dan Morford said numbers for April-May-June showed visitation up about 1,500 compared to 2018 numbers, despite the park’s museum being closed while work progresses on the east side of the visitor center. Morford said the construction, scheduled for completion in January 2020, will include a new entrance located on the east side of the building, new indoor restrooms, a couple of offices and a multi-purpose room with windows facing north out of the building to provide a view of Saddle Rock even during inclement weather.
“We’ll have all new exhibits,” Morford said. “They’re all completed and in storage in Denver currently. We’re just going to have to work with the contractor on when we can get them installed so that we don’t have to wait until they’re all done before we can get started.”
The old displays were mostly designed in the mid 1960s, so Morford said the new exhibits will sport a different look. There will be some fossils, an activity area where kids can play and some new stories to tell. This is the fourth addition to the original visitor center, which was erected in 1936.
“Seeing the walls going up the other day, it was a good day around here that day to see things moving forward,” Morford said.
There is still some concrete work to be done and plenty to do inside, but Morford said he is pleased with Rangel Construction and the various sub-contractors for the work they’ve done.
“It’s really going well, despite some of our late spring weather,” he said. “That had some impact, but the crew did a really good job of working around that, working inside, doing whatever they could do when the weather didn’t cooperate.”
The project stipulates that the contractors do what they can to be environmentally friendly, including taking materials being removed, such as concrete, conduit and other recyclable materials, to be reused or disposed of properly.
Despite the construction, Morford said he’s pleased with the visitor numbers.
“We’re seeing really good visitation,” he said. “We’ve been very busy, there’s been a few days at the counter in our (temporary) trailer where we’ve had 700-900 visitors for a weekend.”
Admission fees for the park have been waived, at least for this year. Morford said he believes the free admission was a good move, especially for this year, but it is yet to be determined whether it continues that way.
“We’re evaluating to see where that goes,” Morford said. “It was costing us more to do the collecting program than what we were getting out of it.”
Visitors often tell Morford and his staff how pleased they are that they have chosen to stop at the Monument.
“You don’t know how often we hear, ‘Wow, I had no idea this kind of an area existed, especially in Nebraska,’” Morford said.
One couple from Colorado decided to stop in on their way to South Dakota and told Morford that the stop at Scotts Bluff National Monument had been the best choice of their entire vacation.
Once the construction is completed, the orange fencing comes down, the new exhibits are in place and the temporary trailer currently housing the visitor information is moved out, Morford and his staff are anxious to get back to a bit of normalcy.
“We’re really looking forward to putting things back together and really being able to provide a quality experience for folks out here,” Morford said.