The heart of the most popular national park in the west is about to reach a major milestone in a multiyear makeover. 

The park—The Presidio of San Francisco, which is the centerpiece of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area—will open a new visitor center this weekend in a refurbished circa-1900 guardhouse that overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.

Dubbed the William Penn Mott, Jr. Presidio Visitor Center, the new $5 million facility is designed to give visitors a singular spot to learn about the former military base and find out more about everything the park now has to offer. Although the Presidio boasts a variety of public-facing museums and attractions, previously there had been no central spot to get general information about the park as a destination itself.

When the new visitor center opens, it will showcase a variety of interactive exhibits. Among them:

-A large-scale model of the Presidio will feature touchscreen panels that help visitors select spots to view when they are on site.

-A video wall will list a calendar of daily events.

-A computerized table will serve as a digital encyclopedia, presenting location-specific history lessons in three different languages.

-A shadowbox art installation will enable community members to share what the park means to them. 

Other exhibits will spotlight different hot spots in the park, including the Main Post—the quad of old army buildings that is home to the Walt Disney Family Museum, the Presidio Officers’ Club museum and archaeology center, the Inn at the Presidio, a variety of restaurants, and public art projects, such as Andy Goldsworthy’s sculptures that incorporate tree trunks and other natural objects. 

As is the case with most national park visitor centers, the Presidio’s new public-facing facility also will have a gift shop with supplies to use in the park, as well as education-oriented items.

The new visitor center sits on the edge of a part of the Presidio that was dominated by a freeway for decades. Over the past few years, parts of that roadway have been hidden in tunnels. Within the next two years, the Presidio will add a 14-acre area on the top of those tunnels dubbed the Presidio Tunnel Tops. This landscape is being designed by James Corner Field Operations, which designed and built the High Line in New York City. It is scheduled to be finished in 2019.

Overall, the National Park Service has been transforming the Presidio’s historic buildings and natural areas into public spaces since the U.S. Army turned over the property in 1984.

The Presidio itself is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), which was the second most frequently visited park in the National Park System, behind the Blue Ridge Parkway through North Carolina and Virginia. According to a release from the National Park Service, the GGNRA logged 14.9 million visitors in 2015, the last year for which there is formal visitation data.

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