Although recent weather temporarily closed the Summit Road at Scotts Bluff National Monument, it hasn’t slowed down the work on the Visitor Center.
“They’ve been able to do some interior work when the weather is bad,” Monument superintendent Dan Morford said. “When the weather is nice, they work on the stuff outside.”
Right now, contractors are working on spraying insulation into the ceiling of the expansion.
“Our next big task is the shingling project,” Morford said. “That will be a big one.”
He said he’s expecting that work to begin in the next couple of days. The hope is that it will be completed sometime next week. Crews will also begin painting the exterior soon.
Morford said he’s pleased with the project and believes it is on track to be finished in January as expected.
“I think we’re doing fairly well,” Morford said.
This isn’t the first renovation project at the Visitor Center, although it’s been awhile. The original Visitor Center was built in 1935. In 1937, it was expanded to include the tower, Landmark Room and a comfort station (restrooms). In 1948, the William H. Jackson Memorial Wing was added, according to the National Parks Service.
These updates, which have been about 10 years in the making, are being done in part because of an increase in visitors as well as the need for major upgrades to the fire suppression system, new wiring and a new HVAC system.
“Those kinds of things were really needed,” Morford said.
The renovation will provide more space to house new exhibits, which are currently being stored in Denver until they can be installed.
“I’m excited about the exhibits,” Morford said. “It’s going to be a whole new look. It’s going to be very different than that we had.”
He said the exhibits will include a number of different topics with historical relevance to the area.
“We’re going to cover everything from Native American topics to bison to the immigrants to wagons,” Morford said. “It’s quite a variety.”
The exhibits are designed by a special team within the National Parks Service, called the Harpers Ferry Center Exhibit Division, based in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Members of the division made several trips out to the monument and participated in a lot of conference calls in order to get to know the mission of the park and determine what themes and topics to focus on.
“They work with the park to help tell the story,” Morford said. “That’s their full time job.”
In addition to the new exhibits, Morford hopes to be able to showcase some of William Henry Jackson’s work from the Monument’s collection. Jackson lived from 1843 until 1942 and spent much of his life as a photographer, artist and explorer whose work showcased the American West including the Monument.
“We have paintings, we have photographs, we have sketches and pencil drawings,” Morford said. “I know people are really interested in them.”
At this point, Morford is working to figure out the best way to create reproductions of the work, because the original photographs are too fragile to be on display. Once that problem is solved, Morford will find a home for some of the art. He said that will be easier once the building is completed and he can see how everything comes together in the space.
“We’re looking at our facility and trying to decide how best to honor William Henry Jackson and his work,” Morford said. “I’ve got some things in mind.”
Morford said a grand reopening ceremony is tentatively set for April 25, which is during National Parks Week. He hopes the project will be completed sooner, though.
In the meantime, he’s grateful for the public’s patience during the process. He said although the weather is getting cooler, the monument is still open and visitors are encouraged to stop by the temporary visitors center and drive up the Summit Road, which has opened back up following recent snowfall.
The temporary Visitor Center is open from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily. The Summit Road is open from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., and all vehicles are required to be down by 4:30 p.m.
Access to the road may be restricted if the weather is bad, said Kayla Gasker, park ranger and centennial coordinator.
“Our maintenance crew will make every effort to clear the road in a timely manner, however, certain sections of the road near the top never see any sunlight so it is not uncommon for the Summit Road to be closed even after the weather has cleared,” said Gasker.
For current conditions, call 308-436-9700, extension 700.