The National Park Service has opened a new visitor center at Scorpion Bay on Santa Cruz Island in the hope of drawing crowds to the unique natural habitat.

The project center — which took nearly four years to complete and cost roughly half a million dollars — opened its doors to the public last week. Located on the biggest and closest of the Channel Islands, the center is surrounded by an ecosystem which supports over 60 types of various wildlife and plants found nowhere else on earth.

Santa Cruz Island is one of eight islands located off the coast of Southern California and one of five that make up the Channel Islands National Park.

The center is designed to entice visitors to make the two-hour boat ride from Santa Barbara harbor and explore the unique aspects of the island, as well as to keep visitors informed of island activities, conservation efforts and safety tips.

As well as being a national park, Santa Cruz Island has been owned in part by the Gherini family for decades. Local lawyer and author John Gherini was instrumental in the creation of the center, which is based out of the historic Scorpion Ranch House at Scorpion Bay.

“The purpose of the center was to preserve the natural features of the park, as well as the cultural and archeology history of the island,” Gherini said. “This project goes a long way to help interpret the significant aspects of the park.”

Gherini’s Scorpion Ranch House home was first built in 1886 but has now been completely transformed in order to house a handful of exhibits for the 60,000 plus visitors that visit the island each year.

Gherini donated many of these artifacts and said he is pleased with the cultural portrayal achieved at the center.

“Overall, a more interpretive cultural history of the island ranching lifestyle and the Native Americans is achieved by the center,” Gherini said.

In keeping with the Chumash heritage, the opening of the visitor center featured a dedication and blessing led by Chumash elder Julie Turmoit, as well as traditional songs and dances.

The new visitor center was funded through park recreation fees designated by Congress for the preservation of National Parks. And according to Channel Islands National Park Superintendent Russell Galipeau, the center allows visitors to explore the island on their own.

“I am very happy with the center’s success,” he said, “and now visitors don’t have to meet with a volunteer or park ranger and they can really explore for themselves.”