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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGION: New “Green” Headquarters and Visitor Center at San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex

Region 8, October 14, 2011
San Luis National Wildlife Refuge new headquarters and visitor center
San Luis National Wildlife Refuge new headquarters and visitor center - Photo Credit: n/a
San Luis NWR HQVC entrance
San Luis NWR HQVC entrance - Photo Credit: n/a
Kim Forrest, Project Leader, San Luis NWR  and Jim Kurth, Chief of National Wildlife Refuge System
Kim Forrest, Project Leader, San Luis NWR and Jim Kurth, Chief of National Wildlife Refuge System - Photo Credit: n/a
Marge Kolar, Assistant Regional Director, National Wildlife Refuge System
Marge Kolar, Assistant Regional Director, National Wildlife Refuge System - Photo Credit: n/a

By Pam Bierce, External Affairs

Visitors to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex will now be greeted by a life-sized tule elk statue and panoramic views as they enter a new state-of-the-art headquarters and visitor center which ceremoniously opened its doors to the public October 14. More than 300 visitors explored and experienced the new facility following the long-awaited grand opening, which involved several partner groups, local community leaders and refuge staff.

Long-standing refuge partners Ducks Unlimited, San Joaquin River Partnership, River Partners, University of California Davis, and California State University-Stanislaus assisted the refuge with the project and were involved in choosing themes for wildlife exhibits and other features.

“Projects like this give us the opportunity to have a presence in a community,” said Jim Kurth, Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System. “It’s a place where citizens from the local area can bring their children to learn about nature and have a good time in the outdoors as a family. It makes a positive impression in the community of what the Service does, and that’s really important.”

The building is one of the largest refuge construction projects in the nation to be funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and also features the latest energy saving design and technology. The builder, West Coast Contractors of Reno, Nevada, estimates that the project created a minimum of 50 full time jobs. At least 300 people from more than 30 individual subcontracting companies worked on the project.

The innovative building was designed by Catalyst Architecture of Prescott, Ariz., an award winning firm and expert in energy efficient and sustainable design. Their “place based” design combined functionality with sustainability and beauty. Designers blended the structure with the ecology of the site to complement the surrounding environment and help tell the story of the refuge.

The refuge is in the process of obtaining the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification. In order to earn the Platinum level, the highest rating, the San Luis NWR building met a long list of standards for energy conservation, renewable energy production, water efficiency, use of recycled materials, and indoor environmental quality and control. The 16, 000 square foot building is also expected to be a less-than-zero structure-meaning the facility has been designed to produce more energy than it consumes.

The building also features administrative offices, an environmental education classroom, an exhibit hall filled with interactive displays, and a dramatic glass-enclosed lobby and visitor information area. Visitors may even see a tule elk wandering behind the building.

“There are all sorts of interactive exhibits to give the visitor something to do, and our goal was to make it not only educational, but to create a sense of discovery and a sense of wonder, “said Jack Sparks, outdoor recreation planner at the refuge.

Refuge staff believes the visitor center also creates an environment for learning about nature, and will soon become a resource for the local community members and school groups, and a destination for visitors traveling from other areas. The exhibit hall features over 20 displays depicting the various habitats on the refuge. Children (and adults) can touch, pull, and open drawers to find little treasures and fun facts about the many types of wildlife that live on the refuge.

Another benefit of the new building is that it allows refuge staff to actually be located on the Refuge. For the past 30 years, refuge offices were located inside leased space at a strip mall in nearby Los Banos, Calif., and provided no facilities for refuge visitors. Despite a lack of facilities, approximately 100,000 people visited the refuges in the San Luis NWR Complex, (San Luis, Merced, and San Joaquin River) last year, and refuge staff expects the new facility to attract twice as many visitors.

The visitor center is located at 7376 S. Wolfsen Road, off Highway 165, about six miles north of Highway 152 and is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except holidays.


Contact Info: Pam Bierce, 916-414-6542, pamela_bierce@fws.gov