A $40,000 visitor center, complete with Internet access, could be erected this spring at the Black Sandy State Park and campground, under a proposal put forth Monday by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The new prefabricated 16-foot-by-24-foot concrete building would be installed on a pad next to the campground host site. The structure would be wired with electricity, which has been trenched to the proposed location as part of the fall 2010 effort to electrify the campground.
Currently, an 8-foot-by-12-foot wooden structure is at the site.
Internet access is important, FWP noted in a recently released Environmental Assessment, because last year, state parks initiated an Internet-based reservation system at the popular park 14 miles north of Helena. However, while convenient for visitors, the staff at the park weren’t able to monitor or manage the reservations “because the small office became too hot for staff or storage of electronic equipment and a wireless connection to the Internet was limited.”
Instead, campsite reservations were handled at the FWP office in Helena, and difficulties arose during the peak summer season, when timely changes to reservations were required.
“We had some problems if people walked in and wanted a site, or wanted to make a change like extending their stay for a day or cancel a day early,” said Jerry Walker, FWP regional park manager. “We had a wireless Internet system at the park, but could use it only intermittently due to the topography out there.”
The site also doesn’t have cell service. Walker said they’re considering installing an antenna to improve both cell and Internet service.
He added that people seemed to like the reservation system. Popular sites like Black Sandy’s campground often fill during the summer, and people wanted some certainty if they traveled to the site that room was available for them.
“We got nothing but accolades for the reservation system,” Walker said. “We had a couple of glitches but nothing major that we couldn’t work through.”
In the assessment, FWP reports that the addition of a formal visitor center, which would provide a place to greet campers, boaters and others, would make the park staff more efficient and improve the system. That would increase customer satisfaction, which in turn could increase the number of visitors to the park and increase revenues generated at the park.
The 15-acre site has a day-use area, boat launch, latrines, picnic areas and 35 camping sites. About 45,000 people use the park annually, mainly during the summer, although it is open year-round.
Walker said that the response last summer also was fairly positive to the electrical upgrades.
“We heard from users that would go out there early, when it was still cold out and they were appreciative for the electricity so they could run their motors,” Walker said. “We also heard from people with disabilities; one person was on oxygen and needed the electricity to run that.”
FWP outlines three options in the assessment. The state agency could leave matters as they stand, but believes that people may be negatively impacted when changes to reservations are delayed. They could go with the new building, which could increase revenues, increase visitors to the park and prevent vandalism by having more of a presence at the facility.
A third option, which FWP eliminated from further consideration, would be to improve the current wooden building and install wireless Internet. However, the building still would be too hot in the summer, is too confined to meet with visitors and “does not provide the professional appearance that is desirable in the state park system,” according to the assessment.
If the public desires, FWP will hold a meeting on the proposal. Otherwise, people can read the assessment online by following the link in this story online. They also can pick up a hard copy at FWP’s Helena Area Resource Office at 930 Custer Ave.