Renderings of the new River Center

You won’t just walk into the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s new River Center in downtown Basalt. You’ll be swept inside, like water eddying around a boulder in the nearby Roaring Fork River.

“The glass on the building is inflected so that as you walk down the sidewalk, the glass moves away from you,” explains Harry Teague, the celebrated architect who designed the River Center. Visitors will feel like they’re sliding or flowing into the building, rather than hitting it head-on.

It’s just one of the many water-themed features of this 3,800-square-foot facility on Two Rivers Road, adjacent to Old Pond Park. The building will serve as the visitor center and administrative offices for RFC, which works to protect the valley’s streams and wetlands.

Since 1996, the Basalt-based nonprofit has promoted watershed conservation by offering educational outreach, facilitating restoration projects, and advocating for policy initiatives that support healthy streams and wetlands throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. But it lacked adequate physical space in which to host stakeholders, entertain school groups, and assist citizen scientists with water-quality analysis.

Opening in August, the RFC’s River Center includes not only office space, but also a multipurpose classroom, a visitor reception area, and a state-of-the-art water-quality laboratory where the volunteer “stream teams” of the River Watch program can analyze their water samples.

“Schoolchildren in Basalt can walk to the River Center, do a lesson, then go to the water and conduct a study,” explains RFC Executive Director Rick Lofaro, adding that this facility is the first of its kind in Colorado. It doesn’t, however, contain immersive, museum-style exhibits. “We’re not trying to re-create the river indoors, because our donors and the public wanted this to be an action facility that highlights the natural environment,” says Lofaro.

So Teague designed a structure that directs occupants’ attention to the surrounding waterways. The overhead light fixtures unfurl across the ceiling like an angler’s line, windows showcase nearby wetlands and the river, and the roof funnels snowmelt and rainwater into a cattle trough symbolizing how valley communities rely on the water that nature provides. The covered, outdoor galley serves as a viewing blind, where visitors can sit and observe Old Pond waterfowl. And a metal screen on the building’s exterior reflects solar heat and alleviates the need for air conditioning.

“I’m excited about that double skin. It’s innovative and interesting,” says Teague, who is also proud of the way that he and Koru (the contractor) succeeded in making a beautiful building on an extremely tight, $2.8 million budget.

Lofaro, meanwhile, is proud of Basalt for supporting the venture. “It’s great for this to be coming online, because we all know now that water is the issue of our time,” he says. “The creation of the River Center speaks volumes about the commitment that this community has for its rivers.” 

The River Center’s ribbon-cutting celebration will be on August 10, 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. A public grand opening takes place the next day, with an open house and tours from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., followed by a community picnic and live music.

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