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Lake Anna center has gone futuristic


THE RECENT transformation of the visitor center at Lake Anna State Park couldn’t be more dramatic if blinking neon signs had been installed.

Until now, the exhibit at the park in Spotsylvania and Louisa counties was as under-whelming as they come: a mix of dusty stuffed animals, faded pictures and the odd turtle in a terrarium.

Thanks to an effort funded largely by the Virginia Association For Parks, the center adjacent to the parks’ beach offers a radically new experience.

It is made up of:

A wall of 70-inch LCD video screens combined to show high-definition footage of geese on the wing or other scenes from state parks.

A “Day at Lake Anna State Park” display that uses a screen inside a tent to create a friendly female camper who recommends neat hikes and a guided tour of a former gold mine.

Walls covered floor to ceiling with images of trees, streams and more.

Interactive displays with questions about the state’s flora and fauna, bringing a game-like experience to learning.

An enclosed 3–D theater that will show a short film of dramatic sights and stories from state parks.

“It’s all to educate and entertain kids of all ages,” said Johnny Finch, president of VAFP and Lake Anna State Park neighbor and supporter. “Everything here is designed to help visitors learn more about and be more connected to this park and others.”

I met with Finch and multimedia consultant Fred Lochner of Wisconsin recently to see the dazzling transformation overseen by Lochner’s Imperial Multimedia.

Legislators, business leaders and other special guests were being hosted this weekend at a special unveiling.

The public can get a look during a special opening from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 23 and 24, or later in the year when it opens with regular hours.

Finch explained that Lochner’s mix of video screens, game-like displays and more form a new approach he and others involved in Virginia parks would like to see expanded.

The VAFP president, who works closely with Virginia State Park’s Director Joe Elton, noted that the budget for a major new exhibit in a park’s visitor center is typically $500,000 to $1 million.

“We’re still tallying the cost of this one,” said Finch. “But we expect that it will be done for one-fifth of that or less.”

Part of the lower price, according to park manager Doug Graham, comes from the fact that, with Lochner’s help, park staff did most of the exhibit’s construction. A sign shop at another park created the graphics.

Imperial Multimedia has been involved in Virginia projects ranging from the creation and installation of free-standing information kiosks at state parks to the creation of websites dedicated to the outdoors, state parks and groups that support them.

Lochner said a strength of the new exhibit is its versatility. An exhibit’s focus and message can be changed by simply using different software or video.

“We’ve gone out and captured high-definition video for the displays right now, but they can be changed and tailored to suit any particular park,” said Lochner.

He noted the displays could be focused on specific wildlife, like using a live camera to capture something fascinating like an osprey nest with fledglings.

Ditto for the short videos seen in the 3–D theater.

“I could see us doing something really neat using Virginia’s history and specific parks,” he said, noting that a short, entertaining film on Pocahontas or famous pirates could be exciting, historically significant and perfect for parks in Tidewater.

Finch and Graham are excited about the center’s potential to teach visitors about the park and the beauty of the outdoors.

“We need to be doing anything we can to connect young people and families to the parks and the outdoors,” said Finch.

He noted that the Lake Anna park’s friends group and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation helped make the new center happen. Finch and others hope that there may be enough support from business and state leaders to fund transformations like Lake Anna’s at visitor centers in other parks.

He and Lochner said it’s not a coincidence that there’s an entertainment twist to the new center.

“If it takes a game or a video to connect families with the outdoors, so be it,” said Lochner.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415