The design of the Deschutes National Forest welcome center is coming into shape and construction should start this summer.
“It will have high, vaulted ceilings and a Cascadian design,” said Amy Tinderholt, recreation team leader for the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District.
While the welcome center design will look similar to the Bend Pine Administrative Site — the Deschutes National Forest headquarters since November 2011 — it will be more “classic” and likely will incorporate more lava rock.
The one-story, approximately 1,500-square-foot building is planned for the intersection of the Cascade Lakes Highway and Forest Road 41, the road leading to Dillon Falls about six miles southwest of Bend and just past the Seventh Mountain Resort.
“The majority of the space is dedicated to an open lobby,” Tinderholt said.
The Forest Service declined to release drawings of the $1.6 million building, with officials saying what they have so far is tentative.
The bulk of the funding for the construction — $1.3 million — will come from a Federal Highway Administration grant.
Another nearly $1 million grant from the same agency will cover most of the construction costs for a paved path from Bend to the welcome centerand the building of mountain bike trails around it.
Bend-based BBT Architects is about 60 percent done with the building's design, Tinderholt said, and the official name for the welcome center has yet to be determined. The forest will finalize the design over the spring and summer.
The welcome center will be “a place for the community to connect and get information about the forest,” Tinderholt said.
The forest will sell maps and visitor and firewood permits at the welcome center.
The U.S. Forest Service announced plans for the welcome center in 2009, as a way to keep a presence near the Cascade Lakes Highway entrance to the forest after moving from its rented offices off of Southwest Century Drive. The headquarters at the Pine Nursery, also home to the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District, is in northeast Bend.
Deschutes County recreation leaders originally opposed the plan, arguing in a 2010 appeal that the welcome center offered more for out-of-town visitors than it did for locals. The appeal has since been dropped.
The appeal focused on how much parking would be available at the welcome center and how much would be accessible to local users, said Sally Russell, then the coordinator of the Deschutes County Committee on Recreation Assets.
The ad hoc committee, established by Sen. Ron Wyden in 2007, led the opposition to the early welcome center plans. Russell was elected to the Bend City Council last November.
Russell said she is eager to see the welcome center design.
“I'd love to know where all that work is going,” she said.
The welcome center will have 36 parking spaces, including four disabled parking spots, and four RV spaces, said Jean Nelson-Dean, spokeswoman for the forest. Those spaces are intended for visitors stopping at the visitor center. There will also be 15 day-use spaces.
Construction on the welcome center should start in July, Nelson-Dean said, and the building should be finished in March 2014.
Critical of the welcome center plan, Scott Silver, executive director of Wild Wilderness, wants to know not only what the building will look like but also how the Forest Service will use it. The Bend-based nonprofit aims to stop the commercialization, privatization and motorization of recreation on public land, according to its website.
Silver said he doesn't buy that the Forest Service will only sell maps and existing use permits there. He said he thinks the welcome center will become a “gateway” for the forest where visitors will eventually have to purchase new permits for hikes up South Sister and access to other areas off the Cascade Lakes Highway.
“As far as I'm concerned,” Silver said, “I would be shocked if that doesn't come to pass.”
Tinderholt said the forest isn't planning any new access permits coupled with the new building, and any new permits would have to go through a public review before going into effect.