A Walk Down Memory Lane to the Lake Oroville Visitors' Center

Lake Oroville Visitors' Center

I have a lot of good memories of time I spent at the Oroville Dam Visitors’ Center.  I always complained about the town I grew up in—saying that I hated it and could not wait to escape.  When I finally did get the opportunity to leave Oroville for good, I was a little sad.  I had come to love my little hometown as I was publishing the Gold CityGazette.  This little project had helped me to develop an appreciation for the area where I grew up.

Large stone at the Lake Oroville Visitors' Center

Oroville, California, is located in Northern California—about an hour north of the state capital – Sacramento.  One of my favorite places in that little town was the Visitor’s Center.  I can’t even remember how many times I went there.  One of the features that stands out the most in my mind is the fountain.  I always wanted to get in it when I was little, but my mom wouldn’t let me. I remember wondering what it was there for if not for me to splash around in it.  It was so unfair.

Plaque on one of the displays at the Lake Oroville Visitors' Center

I used to think the outdoor plaza was so glamorous and sophisticated.  Looking back now I laugh.  Now that I am grown it seems so simple.  It is pretty and clean—but simple.  Inside is where the most interesting part of the experience takes place.  It is like a mini museum.  There are displays and movies that teach about the natives of the area and what life was like decades ago.  Written materials and audio recordings teach visitors about what they ate, how they dressed, their hunting skills, and more.

There are also exhibits that discuss the plants that grow in the area and the animals that inhabit the locale.  Various animals are on display at the center to give those who tour the facilities a more realistic idea of the size and characteristics of species that may be just feet from the building.  A model of the power plant inside of the Oroville Dam is also included in the informative displays.

Just outside the mini-museum is a 46-foot viewing tower where visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding area to include the many hiking trails, campsites, Lake Oroville, and the Oroville Dam.  It was definitely one of my favorite parts of going to the Visitors’ Center because you can basically see the whole town and surrounding area.  If you have not had the opportunity to check out Lake Oroville, you can access the web cam.

The dam was built between 1961 and 1968 and is the largest earth-filled dam in the United States, standing at 770 feet.  The dam helped to form Lake Oroville that allows for all sorts of seasonal activities.  It also creates electricity for local residents, although the power plant has not been at full capacity for decades—with half of the equipment malfunctioning much of the time.  Because of funding that was provided during construction of the dam, the water is owned by Southern California, and the spillway gates are controlled by officials there.

When I was younger, we would drive up to the dam and park to do some sightseeing.  After 911, parking was no longer allowed on the dam itself.  However, free access to walk, run, or do other activities along the dam is still an option.  Driving across the dam is permitted for those who want to use the boat launch located near the dam.  Free parking along the road that leads to the dam is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The great Oroville Dam fiasco happened in 2017 when the spillway began to crumble.  The disaster was compounded by the failure of the auxiliary dam (which, by the way, I never even realized was there even though I drove across it I don’t know how many times—but that’s a story for another time).  I remember sitting in Fort Bragg, California, watching the chaotic events unfold.  It took several years for the repairs to be made—although I still am not confident in the stability of the spillway, or the dam itself for that matter.  If you have not had the opportunity to visit the area as of yet—it is probably better to observe from afar via the webcam.


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