RALEIGH -- A new 7,100-square-foot visitor center at Gorges State Park in Transylvania County, designed to national green building standards, along with two picnic areas and maintenance facilities, will be formally dedicated Oct. 12 by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
The 2 p.m. ceremony is open to the public and will celebrate an important milestone in the history of the state park.
Similar to visitor centers built at 21 state parks and state recreation areas since 1994, the facility at Gorges offers a unique design fitted to the park’s mountain setting, and features an exhibit hall, teaching auditorium and classroom along with administrative offices. Two day-use picnic areas with shelters were built nearby, and three separate parking areas offer space for 160 vehicles. The project represents an investment of $6.4 million from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, the principal funding source for state park capital projects and land acquisition.
“This benchmark in the development of Gorges State Park is the result of deliberate planning and careful stewardship of a very fragile mountain ecosystem entrusted to the state parks system in 1999,” said Lewis Ledford, state parks director. “Beyond being a focal point for the park and a gathering place for the community, the visitor center will be a place to learn about this park’s unique natural resources, and it’s fitting that the facility offers cutting-edge, sustainable building features.”
Museum-quality exhibits in the exhibit hall and throughout the visitor center explore the rich natural and cultural history of the park, incorporating a manmade waterfall. Gorges State Park is situated on the dramatic Blue Ridge Escarpment of the southwestern mountains and offers more waterfalls than any North Carolina state park. Its climate resembles a temperate rain forest, supporting at least 46 species of rare plants and animals. The area was used for hunting and subsistence farming by generations of mountain families and later purchased as a protected watershed by Duke Energy Co.
The state parks system has increased its commitment to sustainability by seeking certification for all large projects by the national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the U.S. Green Building Council. Features at the Gorges State Park visitor center that will contribute to certification include active and passive solar energy systems, geothermal energy systems, rainwater collection and water-saving fixtures and natural landscaping. The structure was designed by Pearce, Brinkley, Cease and Lee PA of Asheville, and the general contractor was Cooper Construction Co. of Hendersonville.
The project marks the completion of the first phase of development under the park’s 2003 master plan. The plan also included infrastructure for long-term development and a loop road into the park’s interior to eventually serve camping areas and additional hiking opportunities. Gorges State Park opened with interim facilities in 2001 and served 92,060 visitors in 2011.
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