The East Bay Regional Park District recently saw the completion of a series of renovations for one of its most popular attractions in Alameda County: the Sunol Visitor Center.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony held earlier this fall marked the official reopening of the center for public visitation. The newly remodeled hub features wilderness exhibits on the surrounding area, the Ohlone Trail and regional ranching history, as well as animal exhibitions and a Discovery Zone for children.
"We've had a lot of people that have been able to interact with the visitor center even in the short period of time it's been open," said Kevin Damstra, interpretive regional manager with EBRPD. "It has resonated with everybody because it takes all these things that are found across this wide-open parkland in the wilderness area and brings them into one area that people can engage with before they go and explore further."
Planning and design for the new center had been in development since 2015 following an infestation of bats, woodpeckers and other rodents to the visitor barn, Damstra told the Weekly. The infestation rendered the older exhibits damaged to a point where park staff could not maintain or repair them.
The center reopening has done much more for the park than adding new displays and updating the barn; the district has been able to bring back interpretation staff full-time and see the creation of an internal exhibit design department.
"Our goal was to highlight the things that people don't always get a chance to see and encourage people to be able to get out and experience the wilderness. From our observations early on, it seems to be doing just that," Damstra added.
The EBRPD, a system of outdoor areas composed of over 70 parks and 125,000 acres, aims to protect and preserve the natural wildlife within its boundaries. Park visitation centers offer educational and environmental resources for the public.
Damstra explained the Sunol center now comprises three main designs, the first includes maps and trails about the park intended to orient visitors coming into the barn. The second area discusses local, cultural connections to the site and offers information about the native Ohlone wilderness and people.
Most of the displays show data from long-term research projects that have been done to help maintain the local environment and ecosystems, Damstra said.
The third and largest area is known as the Discovery Zone. Visitors can be provided with information on trails, local animal sightings, and are able to visit the wildlife referred to as "animal ambassadors" that reside at the center. A gopher snake, rattlesnake, California toad, tarantula and western pond turtle are a select few of the animal enclosements at the Sunol hub.
"There's a recreated rock wall. We have fossils there to talk about ancient history as well," Damstra said of the new Discovery Zone. "There's a digital microscope that projects up onto a screen so people can explore things up close."
Sunol staff expect the new visitor center to host various upcoming events, such as "Meet the Reptiles" or the Halloween-themed "Spooky Creature Feature".
The visitor center at 1895 Geary Road is open Saturdays and Sundays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. More information on events or exhibits can be found at ebparks.org.