Visitor center at Missouri in ‘talking phase’

Although it�s still in the conceptual stage, Clay County may someday be home to a Missouri River Visitor Center that could help to enhance recreational, educational and scientific uses of the river.

In association with the National Park Service and the Missouri River Institute at the University of South Dakota, the Vermillion Area Chamber & Development Company currently is looking into the possibility of building the center at such locations as Clay County Park.

The project would benefit the county in a number of ways said Chamber Executive Director Steve Howe.

�It should increase the visitor traffic into Clay County,� he said. �It also highlights this amenity that we have that so many people don�t realize we have. This river is part of the National Park Service and is a great historical and recreational amenity. It�s a major asset to the community, and we want to inform more people about it.�

The Missouri National Recreational River is divided into two sections � above and below Gavins Point Dam.

Although management offices for the river are already located in Yankton, there is no visitor center, Howe said.

He feels that Clay County Park � and Vermillion in general � would be a prime location for the center for a number of reasons.

�We provide the best access from Highway 29 for visitors, we have the Missouri River Institute right here at the University of South Dakota,� he said. �It just fits here.�

Also, he said the park already has benefitted from work approved by the Clay County Commission and the Clay County Park Board that upgraded camping facilities, boat docks and picknic shelters.

�We want to capitalize on the great work that they�re doing by hopefully enhancing the experience down there, by having some sort of visitor center, interpretive center,� Howe said. �And the Missouri River Institute is interested in potentially putting a field station there. So that could be a large point for their research along the river.�

However, Clay County Park is just one potential location.

The National Park Service doesn�t own the land where the park is located, and would therefore be unable to build anything there, Howe said.

�We�re trying to figure out who should own the building, who should manage it, how is it going to get paid for. All of those things haven�t been figured out just yet,� he said.

One other possibility is a section of the river called North Alabama Bend that is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

�The preference is Clay County Park because of the amenities. However, the North Alabama Bend would have the funding,� Howe said. We haven�t come to any conclusion, we�re just looking at both projects. The Corps Engineers has not committed to doing anything. The Missouri River Institute hasn�t committed to anything. These are literally just discussions and meetings. There�s not even contracts or proposals on anybody�s desk at this point. We�re just in the talking phase.�

The potential tenants of the building include the Missouri River Institute and the National Park Service, who have provided some �very preliminary� wish-lists of what the facility should include, Howe said.

Working with USD, the Chamber will draw up what Howe calls �a footprint of the building� to be completed before cost estimations are made, as well as the building�s actual architectural design.

For his part, Howe made an informal presentation to the Vermillion City Council at noon Monday during a special meeting, at which time the mayor requested a resolution of support be drawn up for discussion at the next meeting.

Howe said the project has the support of the county, as well.

The question as to why there is not currently a center may lie in the fact that it�s �not a traditional park,� he said.

�It�s a moving park. It�s a living park,� he said. �So, you can go to it, but it�s not like you can drive through it like you can Custer or Yellowstone. Because all the land along the river is not part of the park system � it�s just the river itself. So it�s a weird concept that a river is a park, but not the bank of the river.�

One thing Howe stressed was that the project is in the very preliminary stages, but he added that work is being done to hammer out more concrete plans with an official timeline.

�We�re trying to keep it moving so we don�t lose momentum,� he said.

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