Visitors center coming to Lands End 

The trouble with designing a visitors center at the western trailhead of Lands End is how to condense to one room the tales of World War II shipwrecks, how the first inhabitants hunted and former Mayor Adolf Sutro’s life.

The federally owned geographical phenomenon that connects the Cliff House restaurant to the Legion of Honor museum — via a 2-mile footpath along undeveloped, jagged coastline — was handed a $5 million gift by a familiar donor to enhance its grandeur.

The contribution from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund will go toward building a 3,500-square-foot visitors center just above Sutro Baths, offering amenities for hikers like snacks and bathrooms, and highlighting the area’s history and surrounding geology.

"The overall theme of the center is the experience of life at the edge of the continent," said Howard Levitt of the nonprofit Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, which is partnering with the federal agency that owns the land. "It’s unique geologically, with a number of formations — the remnant dunes of the western part of San Francisco near the mouth of the Golden Gate, where the Bay meets the Pacific Ocean."

The $5 million also will help pay for repaving a parking lot at the USS San Francisco Memorial and continued stewardship.

The latest contribution is in addition to the $3.6 million donated by the Goldman Fund in recent years.

The conservancy chose the same architects that designed the Monterey Bay Aquarium to draw the center’s blueprints.

"We want people to learn about the land and about its stories as preparation to what they’re about to see," Levitt said.

Levitt and federal representatives recently met with roughly 100 curious neighborhood residents and hikers to receive input on what the visitors center should include.

Amy Meyer has lived near the trailhead for 50 years and is co-chair for the People for a Golden Gate National Recreation Area. She praised the Goldman Fund for its efforts.

"The visitor center, in a way, it’s a necessity. There’s so much history," Meyer said. "It used to be wild out there, so dangerous and terribly neglected. And we’re -getting -bathrooms!"

With money from the fund and hundreds of volunteers, two paths have been smoothed, thousands of native plants laid, such as seaside daisies, and numerous branches removed from obstructing the view.

Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin next month, and it could be finished by the end of 2011.

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Kamala Kelkar

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