PORT ANGELES — The final pieces of the Elwha River interpretive center, a project some five years in the making, are being put in place.
On Thursday, crews with Interwest Construction Inc. of Port Angeles — headquartered in Burlington — began to install the interpretive panels for the $145,000 center and rest stop at 66 Lower Dam Road just off state Highway 112.
Installing 24 panels — an increase from the original 16 — is the last step in construction of the 30-foot-by-30-foot wooden structure that will mark the $325 million dam removal and restoration of the Elwha River.
The work will be finished by the grand opening May 1, said Caroline Flint, assistant project manager and a board member for the Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway Association, which led the effort to build the center.
Watching crew put up panels was “sort of like having your wife in the delivery room, [with you] pacing up and down, and you can’t help but they’re doing a great job,” Flint said.
A “welcome tree” cedar log donated by Merrill & Ring is at the entrance to the structure, which is floored with some 300 tiles painted by students from Dry Creek and Crescent elementary schools and the Lower Elwha Klallam tribal language program.
The panels inside the building will describe in words and graphics the history of the Elwha River and its dam removal and restoration, which began in 2011.
Those outside the building will tell of the byway association, which promotes the scenery and such activities as whale watching along Highway 112.
A collage of photos of the Elwha River and a painting by a Lower Elwha Klallam tribal member called “Five Nations” are also part of the center, which is a collaboration of the scenic byway association, the National Park Service and the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe.
The grand opening will start at noon May 1 with a meet-and-greet and ribbon-cutting.
Activities — including commemorative tile painting — booths operated by area nonprofits and tours of the facility are planned until 2 p.m.
The dedication will take place outdoors, with chairs provided.
Special guests will include Kathy Steichen, public information officer for Rainier National Park. She was formerly the chief of interpretation, education and volunteers at Olympic National Park.
Rob Smith, the Northwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association, also will attend.
The association contributed $9,000 toward the project, Flint said.
Hanna Merrill, program manager of NatureBridge in Olympic National Park, and the Elwha Klallam Drum and Dance Group, also have confirmed their attendance.
Also invited have been the county commissioners and such project contributors as the schoolchildren who painted the floor tiles.
The children ranged in age from 6 to 13 and attended Crescent School, Dry Creek Elementary and the Elwha Klallam After School Program.
The center is just east of the state Highway 112 bridge over the Elwha River, on the site once used as a staging area for Bernard Construction Co. of Bozeman, Mont., as it took down the Elwha Dam.
The facility is funded by a $208,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration and a $77,000 match from Clallam County.
The grant was received in 2011, and work has been done throughout the past five years, Flint said.
It is intended to be a signature attraction of the scenic byway, which has several smaller displays where people can read about logging camps of yesteryear and working forests.
“It is our first destination point of interest on the byway,” Flint has said, adding that the group hopes to create more.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected]