LONG BEACH — Officials with the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge want people to weigh-in on plans for a new headquarters and visitor center on the federal preserve that spans almost 17,000 acres.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the nonprofit Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge are asking for input at a meeting scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Pacific Coast Cranberry Museum, 2907 Pioneer Road in Long Beach.
Refuge Manager Jackie Ferrier said she wanted to include the public in deciding where to build the Natural Resource Center and designing it, although the project has yet to be funded.
If federal dollars don’t come through, Ferrier said, she’ll work with the refuge nonprofit to try to raise the money.
The cost of the center will depend on what’s included in its design. Refuge officials in 2011 estimated a cost of about $6 million in its long-term plans.
“We’ll be paring it down, at least the government portion,” Ferrier said.
New public face
She wants the new center to have space for the refuge headquarters, a visitor center, education programs, events and public meetings.
Ferrier has long wanted to move the headquarters closer to Long Beach from its location at 3888 U.S. 101, now about a 15-minute drive from downtown.
“We’re trying to be part of the community,” she said.
Two sites are being considered for the center. It could be built at the east end of 67th Place, a tsunami evacuation route. The refuge could then help Pacific County house emergency supplies and provide a public meeting space during an evacuation, Ferrier said.
“I think it makes a lot of sense,” she said.
The refuge was slated to receive $2 million in federal grants to help Pacific County repave and improve 67th Place during the next few years but getting the money depends on the federal highways budget.
95th Street work
The other site being considered is in the floodplain near 95th Street and Sandridge Road. The refuge got a $60,000 grant from the state and county to put in parking spaces, a viewing area and a safer trail access point on 95th Street. The refuge is working on a federal grant to pay for connecting its South Bay Trail across the Peninsula to the Discovery Trail, but again, those dollars depend on the federal budget, Ferrier said.
Either of the two sites being considered for the center would make it easier for tourists and locals to access the refuge, she said. It boasts scenic beaches, coastal dunes, old-growth forests, estuaries, salt marshes, muddy tideflats and ample wildlife watching opportunities.
Ferrier has set two public meetings after the one this week to give people more chances to share their thoughts on the center. They are scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. on May 17 and June 14 at the Cranberry Museum.
“We’re really looking forward to having a lot of input to help us design a space that works for everybody,” Ferrier said.