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kiliki
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PostSat May 14, 2022 3:49 pm 
I was at Mt St Helens yesterday with Seattle Audubon and was surprised to find the area empty.
The Coldwater Lake restrooms that were vandalized last fall are still unusable/closed--it's been 9 months and the USFS hasn't found a way to fix them? The Hummocks Trail, which is a WA State Birding Trail, has been opened to dogs in an attempt to boost use. A Mt St Helens Institute staff member told us that area is considered "underutilized." Looking around at the state of facilities I thought about what it might look like if the NPS was in charge.

And then I see this Op-Ed in the Times today.

https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/an-area-unlike-any-in-the-world-make-mount-st-helens-a-national-park/

Last August, I returned to Mount St. Helens to continue a series of photographs Iíve been taking at particular locations in the years since the eruption. As I turned off Interstate 5 onto the Spirit Lake Highway, I saw that the businesses serving tourists that opened after the creation of the monument are long gone. In the 1980s, more than a million people visited the Gifford Pinchot National Forest every year, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy. By 2006, visitation to the monument fell to only about 700,000 visitors, and businesses began to fail. By 2016, visitation had crashed to about 180,000 ó barely a quarter of what it was a decade before. Recreational use of Mount St. Helens today is less than it was in the years before the eruption.

The fall in visitation seems shocking given the overuse everywhere else. I know there have always been turf battles between the USFS and NPS and was surprised to read the USFS may be amenable to giving the site up.

Generally I'm pretty skeptical of new development in special areas but I think the Mt St Helens Institute plans for a new lodge and campground at Coldwater Ridge could be a good thing. They do need to raise the money still. Plus there will be an EIS.

https://www.opb.org/article/2022/05/08/volcano-lodge-mount-st-helens-national-monument/

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Randito
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PostSat May 14, 2022 4:14 pm 
The Mt St Helens Institute collects $22 per climbing permit and can't scare up the funds to repair the bathrooms?   And they want more money to build a lodge?

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Bosterson
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PostSat May 14, 2022 5:39 pm 
Randito wrote:
The Mt St Helens Institute collects $22 per climbing permit and can't scare up the funds to repair the bathrooms?   And they want more money to build a lodge?

You misunderstand. MSHI collects permit dollars, which they keep a proportion of for whatever it is they "do" (lead helicopter tours of the crater??). The USFS is in charge of maintaining monument facilities with taxpayer dollars from their slashed budget.

MSHI is like the Booz Allen Hamilton (aka Rec.gov) of Mt St Helens - providing a "service" for a cut of the money, with no responsibility to reinvest that money into actual improvements. It's the perfect scam.

The idea of a lodge at Coldwater is rather horrifying. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

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Anne Elk
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PostSat May 14, 2022 11:02 pm 
kiliki wrote:
Generally I'm pretty skeptical of new development in special areas but I think the Mt St Helens Institute plans for a new lodge and campground at Coldwater Ridge could be a good thing.

It's not too surprising that the FS has done such a lousy job of maintaining the interpretive facilities and related infrastructure; it's really not their thing, as demonstrated in this interesting history:

National Monuments and the Forest Service

However as the paper points out, transferring MSHNM to the NPS doesn't mean things will improve:
Quote:
...the Park Service does not have consistent policies or management direction for the 80 national monuments currently under its direction.

National Monuments aren't developed or managed to the same degree as NPs, although just transferring MSH to NPS jurisdiction would probably improve things. But the author of the Seattle Times article assumes that a status change from NM to NP would be necessary to improve the current situation. He seems oblivious to the fact that the NPS is already straining to maintain the NPs it already has.

I'm not all that jazzed about turning another preserved area into a quasi "destination resort".  A campground similar to the one I visited last year at Craters of the Moon would be ok. Nothing wrong with under-utilization from a preservation standpoint. Keeping up the interpretive centers is really important.

But it's amazing how people lose interest in a unique scenic area that doesn't have ancillary entertainment, gift shops, and restaurant food at the end of the line. Another cycle of volcanic awakening would probably draw crowds again. rolleyes.gif

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altasnob
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PostSun May 15, 2022 7:01 am 
It is pretty ridiculous that there isn't a campground going towards Johnson Ridge and Coldwater Lake. I went there last year with my young family and it is too far for a day trip, so we camped on some random forest road on the way up. Worked for us, but most would prefer an actual campground.

I assume that changing it to national park would objectively increase visitors. A rebranding for marketing purposes, similar to Black Canyon and Great Sand Dunes National Parks in Colorado. While the NPS doesn't do a spectacular job of maintaining the parks, I get the impression they are more well funded than the USFS. I wonder how much of a bureaucratic pissing match this proposal is creating, because I also get the impression the Department of Interior (NPS) doesn't always get along with the Department of Agriculture (USFS).

The lowlands along I-5 leading up to Mt St Helens are the poorest, most meth-infested zone between Portland and Seattle, and could use a boost of tourist dollars.

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altasnob
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PostSun May 15, 2022 7:10 am 
Bosterson wrote:
MSHI is like the Booz Allen Hamilton (aka Rec.gov) of Mt St Helens - providing a "service" for a cut of the money, with no responsibility to reinvest that money into actual improvements. It's the perfect scam.

Recreation.gov is a for profit, third party contractor. MSHI is a non-profit. So not really fare to compare the two. As a non-profit, the public has much more information available to them for MSHI than for recreation.gov

https://www.citizenaudit.org/organization/911569993/

https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/detailsPage?ein=911569993&name=Mount%20St.%20Helens%20Institute&city=Amboy&state=WA&countryAbbr=US&dba=&type=CHARITIES,%20COPYOFRETURNS&orgTags=CHARITIES&orgTags=COPYOFRETURNS

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kiliki
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PostSun May 15, 2022 9:26 am 
Mt St Helens Institute is an educational non-profit. They don't maintain infrastructure--I have no doubt the USFS forbids anyone else from doing this--or have helicopters. They teach school groups, run camps like GeoGirls, and in my case on Friday, a lovely young woman taught a group of birders about the geology/ecology of the area before leading us on a hike.

Quote:
It is pretty ridiculous that there isn't a campground going towards Johnson Ridge and Coldwater Lake. I went there last year with my young family and it is too far for a day trip, so we camped on some random forest road on the way up. Worked for us, but most would prefer an actual campground.

I looked for a place to camp or stay for Friday night and was very surprised there wasn't one. There's a private campground/cabin place called Eco-Park but they don't open until Memorial Day. At the time I thought, what a missed opportunity--how great would it be to have lodging along this road--until I read the Times piece about the businesses that have closed.

Quote:
He seems oblivious to the fact that the NPS is already straining to maintain the NPs it already has.

I don't know if he's oblivious or not. While yes the NPS still has budget issues there are nowhere near as bad as the USFS, and they have way more know how in terms of recreation management. And new parks/monuments often benefit from nearby park facilities before they get their own. So in the short term, the sign shop at Rainier could make signage, etc.

Quote:
Nothing wrong with under-utilization from a preservation standpoint.

I'm all for finding lesser used trails but in this case, it's led the USFS to open a birding trail to dogs to boost use. So I think there are downsides even from a preservation standpoint.

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zimmertr
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PostSun May 15, 2022 11:44 am 
Would National Park status grant the area more protection? If so this sounds like a great idea. It has some of the most impressive & unique scenery in the entire country.

Call it Loowit National Park though.

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Anne Elk
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PostSun May 15, 2022 12:02 pm 
altasnob wrote:
I assume that changing it to national park would objectively increase visitors. A rebranding for marketing purposes

It wouldn't even be necessary, although better, to have the NP status; there are other ways to rebrand the area.  Just designating Route 504 as a scenic byway, national or otherwise could bring in marketing dollars from multiple sources. The state's tourism dept gets a big fail for that. *

altasnob wrote:
The lowlands along I-5 leading up to Mt St Helens are the poorest, most meth-infested zone between Portland and Seattle, and could use a boost of tourist dollars.

Hmmm. Sounds like a hotbed for TH car break-ins.

* an additional google check for the Spirit Lake Memorial Hwy indicates that it's already a  a state scenic byway and a National Forest Scenic Byway, so double big fail. So much could be done, with interpretive road pullouts (like on the Lewis & Clark trail in Idaho) etc.

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Bosterson
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PostSun May 15, 2022 2:06 pm 
altasnob wrote:
Recreation.gov is a for profit, third party contractor. MSHI is a non-profit. So not really fare to compare the two.

I didn't mean they literally are the same, it was metaphorical about how they are similar in the collecting of taxpayer dollars they are not required to use to make improvements. In other words, rather than the government reallocate a higher budget (our tax dollars) to the USFS, extra money (our personal dollars) is being diverted to private entities who either pocket it (Booz) or else do who knows what (MSHI), but neither will use it to actually improve infrastructure, which is what the USFS would have to do. (We are paying either way, but the outcome is different.) That said, it's a moot point now cause it looks like since Helens permits switched to rec.gov a few years ago, MSHI no longer collects their $5 "mandatory donation," so instead $6 now goes to Booz. I'm not sure if that is "worse" or not (MSHI never detailed where your $5 went), but obviously it is objectively bad. I have no love for Booz.

The thing with turning MSH into a national park is that it currently is free to access. I'm not sure what extra "protections" it might need that it doesn't currently have, aside from improved infrastructure, but the blast zone to the north (Mt. Margaret Backcountry) is a fantastic area that's not too crowded due to remoteness. I could get on board with the mountain itself being made into a park (though it would still suck to have to pay a park entrance fee just to do a lap around the Loowit), but I would hate to see the surrounding areas turn out like Pinnacles: I grew up climbing there and it was fine as a national monument (much less "impressive" than Helens). I'm not sure what turning Pinnacles into a park has accomplished aside from making entrance much more expensive and the previously sleepy area presumably more crowded.

Having the Coldwater area at Helens get overrun with tourists and also require a full national park entrance fee would suck. You need a reservation just to visit Yosemite at all; if Helens is currently not very busy, do we want to create the idea of desirability and put it on everyone's radar as a destination so the same thing can happen there?

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kiliki
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PostSun May 15, 2022 7:56 pm 
Anne Elk wrote:
So much could be done, with interpretive road pullouts (like on the Lewis & Clark trail in Idaho) etc.

There are interpretive pullouts. Big, nice ones with beautiful views and interpretive panels. That whole highway is really nice.

Quote:
Having the Coldwater area at Helens get overrun with tourists and also require a full national park entrance fee would suck.

No one likes anything to be "overrun" but this area can handle more visitation. There's a big new highway, a boardwalk nature trail, other easy short trails, views, interp sites...and people don't go. I'm not sure about the angst over paying a fee...Johnson Ridge up the road requires a fee; tourists and hikers usually have a pass. And remember, being a park doesn't mean you charge a fee. NCNP doesn't.

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PostSun May 15, 2022 9:01 pm 
kiliki wrote:
The Coldwater Lake restrooms that were vandalized last fall are still unusable/closed

I never understood vandalizing, what do people have to gain from destroying property?

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Bosterson
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PostMon May 16, 2022 12:25 am 
kiliki wrote:
I'm not sure about the angst over paying a fee...Johnson Ridge up the road requires a fee; tourists and hikers usually have a pass. And remember, being a park doesn't mean you charge a fee. NCNP doesn't.

We don't need to tangent this into a debate about hiking fees in general (I think I recall seeing your thoughts on them previously, and I don't think we're going to agree  smile.gif ), but for clarity - JRO is the only access point at MSH that requires a unique access fee, and it is mostly used by tourists who want the view of the crater (some people do hike, but there is only one trail and I don't think the vast majority of people are there for it). The rest of the Coldwater area has no recreation fees whatsoever. I don't recall which of the south and east trailheads have Forest Pass signs, but I don't think it's more than a couple since most are unenforceable due to the area not having the required amenities under FLREA, so effectively hiking in MSH is free almost everywhere at present. And the NPS could have no entrance fee for a MSH national park, but that seems staggeringly unlikely in today's bureaucratic climate. NCNP is the only well known national park I can think of that doesn't have an entrance fee, are there any others? (No googling. Think of all the major western state parks.)

Re crowds, I'm not saying any additional people who want to go to Helens right now need to be beaten back with sticks, but would creating a national park not induce demand? And if an area is currently underutilized (ie has low demand), is there some reason we'd want to try to increase usage? Being underutilized is a scarce resource these days, and we're playing a zero sum game with it - each sleepy place we try to spread more people into becomes itself crowded and then we have to spread those people somewhere else. (And the current ethos at the Forest Service is to "solve" crowding with extra fees and access quotas.) It's like highways - adding more lanes doesn't reduce traffic, it increases it because new lanes bring out people who otherwise wouldn't drive during busy periods.

Legitimate question: ignoring the potential budget increase for infrastructure and programming, etc, is there some kind of extra environmental protection that MSH would get from being made into a national park that it doesn't currently have as a national monument? Esp keeping in mind that anything goes right outside a park boundary - I'm thinking of the uranium mine cleverly being proposed for right outside the Grand Canyon...

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BE A REBEL! YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE!

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Anne Elk
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altasnob
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PostMon May 16, 2022 7:52 am 
I'm not aware of any increased protection for a national park versus a national monument. Some national parks contain wilderness areas (Rainier, Oly, NCNP) and I can't think of any national monuments that contain wilderness. But I don't think there is any law prohibiting the formation of wilderness in a national monument. There are ski areas and hotels in national parks.

Mt. St. Helens doesn't seem like a great candidate for wilderness creation. Maybe certain parts, but mountain biking is popular on a lot of the trails. And wilderness creation may limit what scientific monitoring could be done.

The biggest issue at Mt. St. Helens is what to do about Spirit Lake. After the blast, they dug a tunnel to let the lake drain to Coldwater Lake, which is not the lake's natural drainage path. The lake wants to drain the way it drained before the blast, which would be directly south of Johnson Ridge. This area was covered in debris after the blast but as time has gone, the lake level has risen and it now wants to go this way. But letting the lake drain in its natural path would send mud flows down the drainage, potentially all the way to I-5. The tunnel is filling with sediment and needs to be replaced. I wonder how the national park debate will effect this issue.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/aging-tunnel-near-mount-st-helens-needs-work-to-avert-flood-risks-to-nearby-residents/

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/controversial-road-included-in-project-to-reduce-spirit-lake-flood-risk-in-mount-st-helens-blast-zone/

https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/giffordpinchot/landmanagement/?cid=fseprd632658&width=full

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PostMon May 16, 2022 8:30 am 
A National Park is designated by Congress, whereas a Monument can be designated by executive order by the president, and thus easily reversed as we've seen with some monuments in the past few years for mineral exploitation. My first reaction was against the proposal but now I believe it's the best way to protect the area.

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