With overwhelming support from the public, stakeholders, partners and congressional offices, the new M.W. Boudreaux Memorial Visitor Center overlooking the Clarence Cannon Dam and Mark Twain Lake opened Oct. 2, welcoming hundreds of visitors in its first month open to the public.

As a shovel-ready project, the St. Louis District was able to fund construction through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, replacing the deteriorating M.W. Boudreaux Memorial Visitor Center in Northeast Missouri.

The new facility was accomplished through a design-build process using existing contracts from the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center Facilities Repair and Renewal program in Huntsville, Ala., and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District. Heavily contributing to the project's design was the Mark Twain Lake Visitors and Educational Resource Center Committee, a group of concerned citizens whose purpose was to look at replacement opportunities, consolidate a list of desired features for the new complex, and keep the center's story alive until replacement became a reality. The committee also participated in the review of the proposals received.

"I am impressed with the dedication and commitment of the Mark Twain Lake Visitor and Educational Resource Center Committee to reach out to the local communities and work with the Corps in turning their vision into such a remarkable facility," said Peggy O'Bryan, chief of the St. Louis District's Operations, Readiness & Regulatory Division. "The architectural attributes of the Visitor Center represent the local character of the region. The attention to detail inside and outside the building is a testament to the hard work and efforts of the team. This is an exceptional facility that will serve the public for generations to come."

What makes the project unique is that visitors centers are not the type of project Huntsville Center normally does, said Michael Murphy, program manager of the Facilities Repair and Renewal Branch, Installation Support and Programs Management Directorate.

The building itself is equivalent to a silver designation for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and a showcase for the region. The design-build contractor required building to silver standards, but exceeded those requirements. Some of the LEED features include ground source heat, energy efficient lighting, low flow water works, and energy-efficient windows and building materials.

As part of the site plan for the new visitor complex, the Northeast Missouri Vietnam Memorial has been relocated to a place of prominence at the southeast corner of the building, visible from Route J. The memorial's eleven foot tall gnomon and twelve monuments with plaques have been refinished. The Memorial lists 45 men from Northeast Missouri who died serving their country during the Vietnam War.

Careful review of three proposals resulted in the award of a $4.482M contract to John J. Kirlin Special Projects, LLC of Rockville, Md., for the design and construction of the visitor center, including interpretive exhibits, provided multi-purpose community space, and the other features the community requested, including a grand lobby, a covered outdoor classroom, a nature store sales area, and drive-around vistas.

"Many of the features and options for the new design were suggestions made by many of our neighbors, teachers, community members, visitors and stakeholders," said Sandra Spence, operations manager at the lake. "It is a great day for all of us to learn that the new visitor center is a reality and that the local and regional economy will benefit from its construction and continue to benefit from the lake's operation."

New exhibits in the center explore the benefits of Clarence Cannon Dam and Mark Twain Lake, such as flood risk management, hydroelectricity, water supply, recreation, environmental stewardship and navigation. Hands-on displays help the visitor to understand the natural, cultural, historical and environmental story for the project.

Spectacular views of the lake and dam are provided by a large viewing deck that surrounds the north side of the new building and extends across a foot bridge to a dam and spillway overlook. Inside the building you will be treated to a great room with a large stone fireplace and the Bell-Batty Mural (a piece of restored folk art from the area) hanging over the mantle. Overhead in the grand lobby, partners and volunteers are honored with a large copper leaf sculpture with giant acorn lights that are illuminated when a partner's name is chosen from a kiosk screen. When the display is idle the acorns randomly light-up.

Further improvements are under way, as well. In the Visitor Center Complex there is a small interpretive trail that is being rehabilitated to be ADA accessible. There are also plans for a playground built integrating natural elements such as rocks, logs and topography.

"I'd like to thank our many partners, the Mark Twain Lake Visitor and Educational Resource Center Committee, and those who have worked hard for years to get the Visitor Center reopened," said Spence.