By SCOTT PESZNECKER
The majestic redwoods of Calaveras Big Trees State Park have flourished despite the tests of time.
Likewise, in the midst of the state's stormy budget crisis, the park's visitors center is about to grow four-fold.
Calaveras Big Trees Association officials announced this week that the park will receive up to $3 million in state funding to build a new visitors center next to the park's main parking lot.
The association is a nonprofit citizens organization which raises funds and provides volunteer help for the state park.
The new center could be up to 9,500 square feet, Big Trees Association President Sharon Ritchie said. The existing center is 1,800 square feet and is often overlooked because it is not close to the parking lot.
Ritchie said she is thrilled to get the state funding.
"We were concerned because obviously, in today's environment with the budget crunch, we weren't sure what would happen," Ritchie said.
"We are just desperately undersized, we have no public restrooms for visitors and our center is in an incorrect place for our visitors to see. It should be the first thing they see and not the last thing they see."
Calaveras Big Trees State Park is next to Stanislaus National Forest, about five miles east of Arnold. Each year, an estimated 200,000 people from around the world visit the park's giant redwoods.
Ritchie said the new center will cost about $3.5 million. The Big Trees Association is about $18,000 short of the $500,000 it must contribute to complete the project, but the money is not needed until construction begins next summer.
The new center's conceptual plan is still being reviewed by the state.
As proposed, the center would have a 40-student classroom, a lab for tree study, a library, archive area, auditorium, observation deck and restrooms. It would also have up to three times as much space for exhibits, and a larger gift shop to increase income for the Calaveras Big Trees Association.
"Most importantly, it's going to have increased office space for our staff," Ritchie said.
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