Trail Center valuable tool in marketing Old West |

Trail Center valuable tool in marketing Old West

Rob Sabo
Don Lemons, resident gold panner, shows 5-year-old Henry Weight how to pan for gold as big sister Hannah and brother Austin look on. Lemons was on hand at the 2013 California Trail Days as an exhibitor teaching visitors about life along the Emigrant Trail.
Lesli J. Ellis |

Since its opening in June of 2012, the California Trail Interpretive Center eight miles west of Elko has become an integral part of tourism and marketing efforts for the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority.

It’s also become a valuable tool for education in the rich history and culture of Elko County and the Old West, says Trail Center Manager Gary Koy.

The California Trail Interpretive Center opened June 2 at a cost of $18 million — $12 million in federal dollars, matched with $3 million from the State of Nevada, $2 million from the City of Elko and $1 million from Elko County, Koy says. Since then more than 28,000 visitors have stopped at the center.

Tom Lester, tourism and convention manager for the ECVA, has created a whole new itinerary around the center that takes conventioneers from Elko to the center and points in Carlin and Wells. It’s also used as a draw for bus tours passing through the area.

“It’s one way to lure bus routes here in the group business and one more piece of puzzle in tourism and hopefully create an overnight stay,” Lester says. “If they spend two hours at the Trail Center they either stay in Elko or in Nevada rather than go to Sacramento or the Bay Area.”

Don Newman, executive director of the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority, says the new center has dovetailed nicely with the ECVA’s Old West marketing campaign that promotes attractions at the Western Folklife Center and the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko.

It’s also been used as a showcase venue to receive important visitors to Elko County, Newman says.

“We can take people out there in a very casual setting,” he says. “We’ve got the Trail Center, the museum, Sherman Station visitors center at the chamber, and the Western Folklife Center. It all ties the historical significance of the area together. We really have a lot of western history and artifacts and cultural opportunities for people to visit.”

The California Trail Interpretive Center is a partnership with the State of Nevada and the City and County of Elko, Koy says. The center itself is 16,000 square feet, with a 15,000-square-foot outdoor plaza and covered wagon encampment.

The center features a number of audio/visual presentations and hands-on interactive exhibits designed to give visitors a feel of what life was like for the early settlers who crossed the state on their way to California. For instance, one exhibit shows visitors how to pack a covered wagon for crossing the dry desert and treacherous passes in the Sierra.

“It is not a museum; it is a hands-on interpretive center with exhibits for kids and the public,” Koy says. “The goal is to try to create an experience as if they had been there at the time.”

There also are about a mile of hiking trails behind the center.

Koy says that a survey conducted by the University of Idaho found that 58 percent of visitors to the California Trail Interpretive Center were between the ages of 22 and 40, and 22 percent of the children who visited the center were under age 12.

“We are seeing a lot of young families,” Koy says.

Executives for the center and the ECVA were working last week on a social media marketing campaign designed to boost visitation to the center.


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