News Column

New Visitors' Center Taking Shape on Canyon Rim

August 19, 2014

By Ed Glazar, The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho



Aug. 19--TWIN FALLS -- A modern building is taking shape on the Snake River Canyon rim, and the $1.5 million new Twin Falls Visitor Center is to open early next year on the same site where its predecessor sat.

Construction began in April for the 5,000-square-foot new center -- five times the size of the former center, the contents of which are squeezed into a trailer on the site nearby.

"The building, as we understand it, will be done this fall," Debbie Dane, executive director of Southern Idaho Tourism, said Monday.

Then final touches and creation of displays will begin.

"The one thing we don't want to do is open the center before it's ready," Dane said.

Interpretive displays will tell the region's story, from the historic I.B. Perrine stagecoach to the area's agricultural history and the geology of the Snake River Canyon. It also will highlight nearby attractions such as Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and the Minidoka National Historic Site.

"It represents the entire region," Dane said. "It represents all the forces that make our region what it is today."

Architectural and landscape elements, such as basalt rock and native plants, will echo the region's geology. The building will feature floor-to-ceiling windows to connect visitors to the canyon.

The former visitor center, open since 1989, was being pushed to capacity with about 25,000 walk-in visitors per year, according to the Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.

"It was quaint," said Perrie Freestone, a volunteer at the center for more than 20 years.

Despite its small size, people from across the U.S. have told Freestone over the years that the center was one of the best they'd visited.

"And that's saying a lot," he said.

The project is a significant undertaking for the Chamber and the community, said Shawn Barigar, Chamber president. It's a fact that's kept it on paper for many years.

"It's been in the planning as long as I've been at the Chamber, which is 10 years," he said.

The new center began coming to fruition in 2013, when developer Ray Neilsen seeded it with a $400,000 contribution. Neilsen's adjacent retail development project, Canyon Park West, was the site of his family's former ranch.

"Having grown up in Twin Falls, and as a third-generation Neilsen developer, I feel a special connection to this area," he said in a news release.

A capital campaign is ongoing to finance the rest of the project. Many sponsorship opportunities, from $500 to $20,000, allow individuals and businesses to be recognized for contributions.

With the expansion and remodel, the new center will be open year-round -- a change based on state research indicating a recent uptick in fourth- quarter tourism.

"We're seeing more overnight stays in hotels than we did last year," Barigar said. Those figures apply to the entire region, but mostly to Twin Falls.

The new building also will house offices for the Chamber and Southern Idaho Tourism, a meeting space and a souvenir and local products gift shop. Improvements to parking, and pedestrian and bicycle access to the Canyon Rim Trail, also will be made.

For more information about sponsorship opportunities, contact Barigar at the Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, 208-733-3974, or email shawn@twinfallschamber.com.

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(c)2014 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho)

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Source: Times-News (Twin Falls, ID)


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