National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
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Lolo Pass Visitor Center and Rest Area

Description: Discussions began in 1996 to upgrade facilities at Lolo Pass near the Idaho/Montana state line. After years of planning and two years of construction, the Lolo Pass Visitor Center and Rest Area opened in June 2003. The facility is located in the area where Lewis and Clark crossed over the Lolo Pass in the Bitterroot Mountains and will play an important role in the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial from 2004-2006.

The Lolo Pass Visitor Center and Rest Area is located along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail and is one of the designated sites of Nez Perce National Historical Park. While the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) had the lead in the project, they quickly involved the National Park Service, the Nez Perce Tribe and the Departments of Transportation (Montana and Idaho) in the planning and construction activities.

The concept for the Lolo Pass Visitor Center and Rest Area was conceived by the Federal Highway Administration, Montana Department of Transportation, Idaho Transportation Department, and USFS. With support by the states' Congressional delegations and Idaho Gov. Dirk Kepthorne, the agencies were able to make the vision of the visitor center and the rest area a reality when they secured Intermodal Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) funds for the project in 1997.

The USFS collected approximately $4.3 million in partnership funds most of which came from Idaho and Montana Departments of Transportation. The other cooperator, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, contributed approximately $36,000. The USFS also spent about $1.1 million in appropriated dollars for the project.

A rustic log visitor center is the centerpiece of the Lolo Pass project. It is designed to resemble a 1930s Forest Service ranger station. Inside are displays about the Lolo Trail and the natural and cultural wonders of the area. A warming hut was constructed to provide shelter for winter recreationalists and for picnics, meetings and summer classes. Interpretive hiking and ski trails and picnic tables were developed. A -mile accessible interpretive trail was built that circles the recently restored wetland near the visitor center.

The USFS consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Park Service, Nez Perce Tribe, and Idaho State Preservation Office to address sensitivities related to the rich natural and cultural resources in the area.

Historians from the Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and Confederated tribes of the Colville Reservation worked with the USFS to develop displays for the visitor center.

Construction of the visitor center and rest area cost $5.8 million. The visitor center was constructed by Bodell Construction of Missoula, Montana. L'Heureux Page Werner of Great Falls, Montana, led the team that designed the center, and Southern Customer Exhibits of Alabama constructed the visitor center exhibits. Primitive vault toilets were replaced with modern restrooms that contain flushing toilets and running water.

"The concept for the Lolo Pass Visitor Center and Rest Area became a reality because of a collaborative effort," Montana Gov. Judy Martz said at the opening of the visitor center in June, 2003. "I want to thank all who helped make this happen and encourage the public to explore the site and all that the center and trail have to offer. Lolo Pass is rich with history, and the new center showcases the area well."

Situated on the crest of the Bitterroot Mountains, Lolo Pass has been an important thoroughfare for more than 200 years. The Nez Perce people followed the trail over Lolo Pass to hunt buffalo to the east. The Salish people traveled over the Pass to reach salmon fishing to the west. Lewis and Clark trekked over the Pass on their arduous, historic journey in 1805 and 1806. Today, the Lolo Pass Visitor Center and Rest Area provides a popular stopping point for motorists traveling scenic U.S. Highway 12.

Despite borders between two states and the jurisdictions between agencies, the Lolo Pass Project demonstrates that institutional barriers can be surmounted. Partners realized the visitor is better served by this joint effort than if each entity was trying to provide service individually.

Geographic area covered: Western Montana and North Central Idaho along the Hwy 12 corridor. The facility is approximately 45 miles west of Missoula, Montana and 100 miles east of Kooskia, and 175 miles east of Lewiston, Idaho. This route is a designated scenic byway. The facility resides near the Montana border, just inside Idaho at Lolo Pass.

List of partners and relationships: U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, State of Montana Department of Transportation, State of Idaho Department of Transportation, Nez Perce Tribe, Chief Joseph Band of Nez Perce on the Colville Reservation, Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe and Northwest Interpretive Association were involved in providing input on the design and construction of the facility. They continue to provide support for the operation through consultation, review of interpretive media, and providing free and for sale brochures and books.

Accomplishments to date:

  1. Facility opened and operated through the summer and fall of 2003 and has opened for the 2004 season. Year-round restroom facilities are provided as long as the snow pack on the pass can be removed for access to the center.
  2. Access from U.S. 12 and parking at the area was substantially improved. U.S. Highway 12 was realigned near the site to improve the safety of vehicles entering and exiting the center.
  3. A warming hut was constructed to provide shelter for winter recreationalists and for picnics, meetings and summer classes.
  4. Interpretive hiking and ski trails and picnic tables were developed.
  5. A wetland area that was changed during the initial construction of the site was restored as part of the project.
  6. A -mile accessible interpretive trail was built that circles the recently restored wetland near the visitor center.

Key success factors: It provides one stop shopping for information on a broad range resources and facilities in the region. A key related activity to the Visitor Center was the development of an interpretive plan for the Lolo Trail. The upcoming Lewis and Clark Bicentennial served as a catalyst for the plan which was jointly developed by the Clearwater National Forest and the Nez Perce National Historical Park.

Frustrations: Planning is done very differently by the NPS and the USFS. In this case there were only a few USFS staff doing the actual exhibit and wayside planning but it had to be approved by a huge number of USFS personnel. The planning team tried to accommodate all viewpoints but did not always succeed. NPS staff often had to keep quiet as internal USFS issues were worked on and politics addressed. Follow-up on comments was sporadic and sometimes large amounts of time passed between drafts.

Although Lolo Pass is a site of Nez Perce National Historical Park, the park has neither the staff nor the funding to assist the USFS in it's operation. USFS has struggled, and continues to struggle, in keeping the facility open year round and staffed.

Most important lessons learned to date:

  1. Take good notes, be of good cheer, say please and thank you, and try to understand an essentially different agency "culture".
  2. Choose your park planning participants wisely - the process can be cumbersome and take longer than expected. Patience is essential.
  3. Keep offering to help in some capacity even when the project seems to be done. It's never really over.
  4. Continue to seek ways to help fund positions for the Lolo Pass Visitor Center.
  5. Appreciate that it's easier to put in this time across agency boundaries now, and get the correct information and interpretation in place the first time, rather than not participate and complain about it and do a disservice to the visitor.

What would you do differently next time: Bring my own coffee, and make a point of meeting the major decision makers earlier in the planning process to better understand their expectations.

Suggested resource materials(related to the case study): "Interpreting the Lolo Trail Across the Bitterroots," USFS and NPS, July 2001.

For more information:

Name: Douglas E. Eury
Affiliation: Superintendent, Nez Perce National Historical Park
Phone/Fax: 208-843-2261 ext. 111/208-843-2124

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising __; Capital Improvements_X_; Facility Management _X_; Trails _X_; Design _X_; Program Delivery _X_; Visitor Services __; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration __; Cultural Resources __; Education/Interpretation _X_; Arts __; Information Services _X_; Transportation __; Mutual Aid __; Fire Management __; Planning __; Tourism _X_; Community Relations __;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: Douglas Eury Date posted: 7/2/04
Phone: 208-843-2261 ext. 111

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