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Lassen Volcanic National Park Gets Its First Purpose-Built Visitor Center, and It’s a Dandy


Architectural rendering of Lassen Volcanic's New Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center. NPS photo.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of our oldest national parks, having been established in 1916 through the merging of two national monuments proclaimed in 1907 (Cinder Cone and Lassen Peak National Monuments). Until this week, however, Lassen Volcanic has never had a formal visitor center. That 92-year wait ends today, October 4, 2008, when the park celebrates the grand opening of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at the park’s Southwest entrance.

The Center receives its name from the Mountain Maidu name for Lassen Peak, which means "Snow Mountain." The new facility includes a staffed information desk, exhibit hall, auditorium for a new park film, bookstore, a concession-operated gift shop and restaurant, first aid room, restrooms, amphitheater, and an after-hours backcountry registration and orientation vestibule. The visitor center will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily, except for December 25th.

It's not hard to understand why the staff is excited about the new facility. Until now, the park had no year-round visitor service or orientation facilities—just a makeshift center situated in an old ski chalet (built in 1970) left over from a concessioner-operated ski area that was closed in the 1990s. From mid-June to Labor Day, an 8' x 12' portable shed was rolled out near the Southwest entrance to serve as an information station. During the majority of the year, especially during the harsh, avalanche-prone winter months, there were no facilities to orient visitors or provide basic safety information.

The new building will also be a big step forward in terms of energy efficiency—the old chalet cost over $30,000 per year in heating costs alone. The center’s energy and cost-saving features are expected to earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) top rating (Platinum).

Native landscape planting will require no irrigation, and water conservation fixtures include waterless urinals and dual- and low-flush toilets. Building materials feature recycled content and long life expectancies, including cement-based siding, 50-year roof shingles, and recycled content floor and wall tile, paint, carpet, and countertops. The lighting system uses no incandescent lamp fixtures, and dims lights when natural daylight is adequate to meet all or part of the center's lighting needs.

Passive solar is also incorporated in the design. Eaves are designed to shade windows during summer months to prevent unwanted heat gain, and during winter months, when the sun angle is low, direct light will help heat the building. Heating and cooling costs are reduced by an efficient in-floor radiant heating system and a cooling system that utilizes the earth as a heat sink through a water-to-water ground source heat pump system. Thirty to forty percent of the building's electricity will be provided by an off-site photovoltaic system.

All of those features will pay off in both comfort and cost savings in an area that receives upwards of 40 feet of snow per year. For the nearly 400,000 visitors who enjoy the area each year, a very long wait for an attractive, accessible and practical information and education facility is finally over.

Lassen Volcanic National Park's Southwest entrance is on California State Route 89 approximately 45 miles east of Red Bluff, California and 160 miles west of Reno, Nevada. Driving directions are available at the this site. For more information, call (530) 595-4444, select number "1" from the menu and hold to be connected to the new visitor center.


The new building will also be a big step forward in terms of energy efficiency—the old chalet cost over $30,000 per year in heating costs alone. The center’s energy and cost-saving features are expected to earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) top rating (Platinum).

Can you tell me how much the new visitor center will cost to heat every year? Also, what was the final total cost to build this VC? Oh, and can you be more exact about its location? Thank you in advance.

Frank -

Costs for actual operation won't be known until the building has been in use for a full year - anything at this point would just be a guess, and if those projections are available, I haven't seen them.

Information on the park's website states, "The old chalet cost over $30,000 per year in heating costs alone. The Park spent an average of $20,000 per year on repairs to the structure just to make it usable. The building was in such bad shape that the National Park Service has prohibited any special funds from being spent on the structure. The results created such a deferred maintenance backlog that the structure was no longer viable for repair."

The new visitor center is located near the park's Southwest entrance, close to the site of the old chalet building.

The park has quite a bit of information posted about the project, including plans, costs, etc. at To answer your main question, that website says estimated costs for the new facility were $10 million. The Lassen Park Foundation pledged $500,000 to fund exterior exhibits and the production of a new park film.

I hope that will be helpful.

Very impressive. I would caution as an engineer and designer that people study closely the comments that are being made in current plumbing engineering literature regarding waterless urinals.

THese units ( there are several styles ) are criticized for requiring much maintenance, and not functioning as well as advertised. Some engineers who have experience with them are stating low-flow yes, waterless no, and vowing they will not use them again at this time.

Infloor radiant heating can't be beat.

Isn't the US Government standard as promulgated by GSA LEED Silver ? Someone in management has to have made a decision to "upgrade" to Platinum and should have been required to justify the additional effort and expense to taxpayers. I have to assume that exercise was done.

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