The Twin Lakes Visitor Center remains open to the public, despite harships imposed by the pandemic, thanks to the help of local volunteers.
In past years, the U.S. Forest Service has coordinated with the Friends of Twin Lakes (FOTL) to provide volunteers to operate the visitor center during the summer months. This year, as a result of COVID-19, the U.S. Forest Service could not provide volunteers, leaving the effort up to locals.
In June, FOTL got permission from the U.S. Forest Service to open the center with volunteers organized by the group. After receiving approval, FOTL began hosting people at the center, and has been maintaining its operation since.
Though the collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service and FOTL has existed for several years, the operation of the visitor center has not fallen strictly to the FOTL and its volunteers before this year, Kelly Sweeney, president of the FOTL, said.
While the group is happy to help, they have faced some challenges in finding volunteers who feel safe looking over the space and playing host to visitors from across the country in the middle of a pandemic, Sweeney told the Herald.
The volunteer base is made up largely of people considered to be at higher risk of illnesses related to COVID-19. To reduce the risks, FOTL has required masks and installed additional hand sanitizer dispensers around the property, in addition to protective barriers at the host’s desk.
FOTL felt the need to keep the center operational this year for the resources it provides to those passing through, Sweeney said.
In addition to electricity and Wi-Fi for through-hikers passing through the long-distance trails that cross Twin Lakes, the center provides materials and information for travellers on their way to other destinations. Often-times, volunteers at the center will direct people to local recreation opportunities that match the level of experience and difficulty appropriate for their desires. This prevents people from getting in over their heads and reduces the risk of emergency rescues, she said.
The center hosts visitors Thursdays through Sundays. Despite the unconventional season this year, the visitor’s center has seen at least as much traffic as past seasons, if not more, Sweeney said.
This season, volunteers have modified existing exhibits inside the building, and added a new interactive geology display. Before the end of the season, the group hopes to re-open the Assayer’s office, a small, boarded-up historical building behind the visitor’s center, with an interpretive display that explains the building’s role in Twin Lakes history during the height of mining activity.
FOTL is also working on a connecting foot trail, to be dubbed the Moache Trail, from the parking area near the visitor’s center to the near edge of the lake.