Bridgeport eyes multi-agency visitor center

Fesko: ‘We need to keep this momentum going’

The community of Bridgeport is hoping a proposed new visitor center can help it join the rest of the Eastern Sierra communities that have had to reinvent themselves in the past decade to survive—but first, it had to get past its own internal disagreements about the project.

On Tuesday, presented with a conceptual plan for such a project, the county supervisors said they were convinced that it had happened, and agreed to assign county staff time toward bringing the multi-agency, multiple-use facility from lines on a document to reality.

“We need to keep this momentum going,” said Bridgeport’s supervisor, Tim Fesko, reminding the supervisors that only recently has there been a relative consensus between the many agencies that will share the center—the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the Bridgeport Indian Tribe, the California Highway Patrol, Bodie State Park and more—on the most basic issues, like location.

Until recently, the groups could not even decide if the center should be in Bridgeport, according to county staff, with proposals ranging from as far away from the town as the U.S. 395 junction that marks the entrance to Bodie State Park. 

The most likely locations are now all in Bridgeport; near the old Buster’s Market at the north entrance to town; near the Bridgeport Inn and Hayes Street, or near the Eastern Sierra Community Bank and the Walker River Lodge, Mono County planner Wendy Sugimura told the supervisors.

 “Let’s do this, let’s do something that will help out North County,” said Supervisor Larry Johnston, adding it was also time to find ways to find funding.

The supervisors, while uniformly supportive, also weighed in on specifics of the conceptual plan that concerned them, citing worries about north-side parking and other issues.

A conference center, a medical clinic (screened for privacy and intended to replace the town’s aging clinic facility) a pet area, a venue for local artists and musicians, along with space for the multiple agencies noted above, are in the conceptual planning stage, said Sugimura.

But the project is not off the ground yet, she stressed.

“We have not talked to property owners, we have not gone past this conceptual planning process,” she said, asking for more board input before the project gets more county staff time.

She noted that there are at least two local organizations that have expressed interest in developing the project—the Bridgeport Indian Colony and the Bridgeport Economic Development Group headed by former Mono County Supervisor Bob Peters—while once again stressing that no formal talks with these groups or any other group had yet occurred.

The supervisors told the county planning department to add the project to its list of “to do” projects and said they would discuss the project during their annual August budget review process.