Visitor desk among improvements at Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area

David Peck

Travelers and local visitors stopping by the Cal S. Taggart Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Visitor Center east of Lovell will soon notice a new look for staff members greeting those entering the building – a brand new visitor desk.
The new desk features new museum quality display cases and improved accessibility, Chief of Interpretation Christy Fleming said.
Preparation for and construction of the new desk began Tuesday, and Fleming said there will be some disruption of service during the construction period. The Western National Parks Association bookstore will be closed, but the interpretive staff will offer visitor services in the foyer when the visitor center is open.
“Construction should be completed by January 16,” Fleming said, “however, there may still be some disruption in services at the visitor center as staff puts everything back in order. Services will be back to normal, including the WNPA bookstore, by the end of the month.
“Staff and contractors thank our visitors in advance for their patience during construction.”
On Tuesday, Bighorn Canyon utility specialist Eric Burns and biological technician Ryan Felkins were busy rerouting electric and IT service to the desk area, breaking up a floor in order to lay new wiring.
Integrated Resources Manager Bill Pickett said while the current desk is functional, the new desk will provide more room for employees and better accessibility.
“You can’t get two people past each other right now back there,” Pickett said. “It’s going to be seven inches wider.”
The new desk will also have a walk-through gate on the side of the desk next to the large relief map, an area for staff that is currently closed off by the desk, forcing a staff member to walk all the way around the desk to access the rest of the main room and greet visitors.
Visitor services have already been enhanced at the visitor center with improvements to the audio/visual system in the auditorium. The former system has been replaced, including the projection equipment, audio system, screen and speakers, and the new system has Bluetooth capability and Teams functionality for group staff meetings. The Bluetooth capability helps hard-of-hearing visitors, along with necklace style audio headphones.
The new desk will have museum style display space with special lighting for artifacts that could be damaged by lights, Pickett said, adding that the bookstore will remain largely untouched.
The new handmade desk is being shipped from New Jersey and should arrive this week, Pickett said, for installation next week.
“We should be reopened by the end of next week if things go right,” he said.
Other projects
The desk is just one of several projects the park staff is working on. The park staff is assembling 175 new picnic tables that will be installed in every campsite and picnic site in the park. The tables are made of coated metal that will not warp and decay like the wooden tables currently in use at many sites.
Four sites at the Horseshoe Bend campground will also be improved this spring by making them larger for RVs to use.
Summer projects include redoing the floor and roof of the south cabin at the ML Ranch and repairing the retaining wall for the bridge at the Lockhart Ranch, which was damaged by high water last June.
“We also have a couple of pretty good-sized jobs if we get a heavy equipment operator, one in each district,” Pickett said.
A highway project on the park highway is planned for 2025, currently in the design phase, including smoothing the park entrance south of the Horseshoe Bend turnoff, plus crack sealing, chip sealing and shoulder work, including the campground loop roads and the visitor center parking lot.
Starting this week is a project to repair the fence on the south boundary of the park, and some 4,500 feet of right-of-way fence along the park highway that was washed out during the June flash flood is also slated to be replaced. Quotes have been received, and technical evaluation is underway, Pickett said.
Youth Conservation Corps projects for the summer will include a lot of painting and staining of fences at the Horseshoe Bend playground, comfort stations, kiosks and waysides throughout the park, as well as trim on the ranch buildings, Pickett said.