BERLIN- A large crowd gathered last Saturday to witness the grand opening of the new Assateague Island Visitor Center, a state-of-the-art facility built to replace the original center, which was built in 1967.
The new Assateague Visitor’s Center has five times the space (10,000 square feet compared to 2,000) of the original building and houses all aspects of the park services, both national and state.
On hand for the opening were high-ranking Parks Service officials, Senate representatives and several other dignitaries. The first to speak at the ceremony was the Superintendent of Assateague Island National Seashore, Trish Kicklighter, who paid tribute to the previous visitor center while stressing the importance of the new, expanded building.
“We’ve been waiting to construct a new Visitor Center for more than 20 years, and now it’s finally happened,” she said. “We’re thrilled to introduce this wonderful new facility to the community”.
Visitors to the island spend $22.1 million dollars annually, according to Kicklighter, and making those visitors wish to return every year is vital to keeping Assateague as well protected and tended as it currently is. Nita Settina, the Superintendent of the Maryland Park Service, agreed.
“Engaging visitors has never been more important,” she said.
The new center will include 6,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space, new aquariums, staff offices, and a larger auditorium than the last building, all geared to increasing knowledge and appreciation of the island.
“Hopefully, visitors will leave here with a greater appreciation of this resource,” said Kicklighter.
Dennis Reidenbach, the Northeast Regional Director of the National Park Service shared the same optimism.
“The center will serve as a springboard to help visitors learn about nature and global climate change,” he said.
Staff from several Senators and a congressman was in attendance for the ceremony. Charlie Stek, staffer to former Senator Paul S. Sarbanes, expressed how glad he was that the idea for the new building was finally made reality. Stek joked about how it had taken, “creative financing,” to pay for the project.
“We had to use the transportation bill to fund the center,” he said.
It may have taken a lot of work and a long time, but the new Assateague Island Visitor Center is now officially open to the public. Congressman Frank M. Kratovil, Jr., in a letter read by Tamara Lee-Brooks, a member of his staff, said the center was, “An exciting new chapter in the story of Assateague.”