June 28, 2004

Park service works on exhibits

Desert Dispatch

A historic depot once that was bustling with train travelers more than a century ago could be filled with sounds of tourists learning about the desert before the year's end.

The National Park Service hopes to open the Kelso Depot as a visitor's center for the Mojave National Preserve later this year, park service spokeswoman Holly Bundock said last week.

The depot in the heart of the Mojave National Preserve underwent an extensive renovation effort starting in mid-2002. The park service is now working on the exhibits for the center, Bundock said.

When it opens, Kelso Depot will welcome tourists to the national parkland with various exhibits, information, literature, an educational area for children and a theater for park-related videos. Also, the Beanery, a diner in the depot, has been restored to its 1920s state, and will be open for business when the visitor's center is done.

In its heyday, the Kelso Depot was a stop for rail travelers on their way between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. During the 19th century, it also offered a telegraph office and a community center for residents of the Kelso community.

The restoration cost about $4.5 million, much of which was secured by Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands.

In other Mojave National Preserve news, the National Park Service hasn't yet removed the cross that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declared unconstitutional earlier this month because it hasn't yet received the official written order from the court.

After receiving it, however, the park service will likely need to take down the cross to comply with the ruling -- unless the U.S. Justice Department seeks a stay while deciding whether to appeal the case. Making that decision could take months.

The U.S. Solicitor General's Office is doing research on the Mojave Cross case to determine whether to appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Department spokesman Blain Rethmeier said last week. The Solicitor General's Office handles the federal government's cases that go before the Supreme Court.