State wildlife officials are proposing spending $3 million on a visitors center at the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area in hopes of transforming the refuge into a major tourist attraction.

In the next few weeks, wildlife officials will pitch the idea to Division of Wildlife Resource leadership in hopes of creating something similar to what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has planned for the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Box Elder County.The 75,000-acre Bear River refuge will soon undergo a $14 million development that includes building a visitors' center in Brigham City. The project is being funded by private donations and federal funds, including money from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Justin Dolling, Farmington Bay area manager, said the 20,000-acre Farmington refuge would complement Bear River in creating a greater awareness of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.

Right now, Farmington Bay attracts more visitors than Bear River. Jake Faibisch, DWR information and education manager, said last year 48,000 people visited Farmington Bay.

Some 26,000 visited the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, said Al Trout, refuge manager. But he said that number should climb to between 200,000 and 300,000 after the center is built.

Trout believes the Great Salt Lake ecosystem has enough to offer to make both projects successful. "There is a bigger job out there than either one of us can do," he said.

The key to making the Farmington Bay project work, Dolling said, will be accommodating the increase in visitors while maintaining the habitat.

"The Great Salt Lake is a delicate resource," Dolling said. "We need to find that common ground - that common thread - and go from that point."

Steve Hoffman, HawkWatch International founder, said he likes the Farmington Bay visitors' center idea and believes any bay promotion increases public awareness of their connection with nature.

The Division of Wildlife Resources is hoping the Davis County Commission supports the plan the way it has backed tourism projects for Antelope Island, but Commissioner Gayle Stevenson said right now a vote on the visitors' center is not on the commission's agenda.

Farmington City Manager Max Forbush said the city hasn't made a commitment to the center, but he said he believes it is always good to improve public facilities.