National Park Service visitor center in T.O. will close soon

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The National Park Service, along with local and state agencies, will open the Anthony C. Beilenson Visitor Center for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area on June 9.

Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, May 3, 2012

The new facility, at the site of the former stables of King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas, will replace the current visitor center located at the Hillcrest Center in Thousand Oaks.

In 2005, the NPS, California State Parks, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority bought the 588-acre ranch, where Soka University once sat, for $35 million and converted it into a public park. The four agencies will now manage the new visitor center together.

PICTURE-PERFECT LOCATION—A view of the new Anthony C. Beilenson Visitor Center for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which is set to open June 9 at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas. Courtesy National Park Service

The current visitor center on Hillcrest Drive in T.O. will close July 8. However, the NPS recently signed an eight-year lease on the building and will continue to operate its administrative offi ces there. The cultural center in Newbury Park will remain open as well.

“(NPS) will still have a presence here,” said Thousand Oaks public information analyst Rachel Wagner. “We will continue to work with the parks service on various projects, and if their relocation works best for them, then it will work best for the entire region.”

According to park officials, the move from T.O. to the King Ranch had been planned for years, so the NPS jumped on the opportunity to build the new visitor center after receiving stimulus funding from the federal government in 2010.

“The Thousand Oaks facility is actually not within the boundary of the National Recreation Area, so we had the opportunity with the Recovery Act money to make a new visitor center that is within the area’s boundary,” said Meghan Kish, the recreation area’s chief of interpretation, education and outreach.

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act gave the park service $9.5 million to build the new visitor center.

According to Kish, because the Gillette Ranch is centrally located in the Recreation Area, the move there was a natural fit. Mayor of Thousand Oaks Jacqui Irwin agreed.

“Gillette Ranch is the more appropriate location because it is right in the middle of the Santa Monica wilderness,” Irwin said. “For us, (the move) is completely understandable, and it’s also been a long time coming.”

The Anthony C. Beilenson Visitor Center, named after the congressman who helped form the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in 1978, will be the first “net zero,” or self-sustaining, visitor center in the National Park Service.

It will produce more energy than it will consume by using a 95kW solar panel energy system. In addition to featuring modern environmental technology, the facility will showcase brand new interactive exhibits.

The building is surrounded by public park grounds and neighbored by an estate that was commissioned by King C. Gillette, inventor of the safety razor and owner of the grounds in the late 1920s.

“We are sad to be leaving Thousand Oaks . . . but the public will love this new facility. It’s amazing with new exhibits in a beautiful location in the center of the park . . . so there are facilities for picnicking, hiking and recreation right there,” Kish said.

The new visitor center also hopes to improve the collaboration among the four managing agencies. While the SMMNRA is a complex network of national, state and local parks, its Thousand Oaks visitor center was run solely by the NPS. Park officials thought that if the new visitor center were cooperatively run by all the preservation agencies, visitors would receive a more comprehensive perspective of the park.

“Since this center will be run by all the agencies together, it will be better able to answer the public’s questions about all the different parks in the recreation area,” Kish said.

The construction of the new visitor center is complete. In the next few weeks, workers will finish the landscaping, exhibits and book store.