|**News and Events: Mt. St. Helens a National Park?|
|Mon, July 30, 2007 10:06 AM|
Mt. St. Helens a National Park?ST. HELENS NATIONAL PARK?|
Webmaster's note: This article is reprinted from The Columbian with permission.
July 26, 2007
THE COLUMBIAN, Vancouver, Washington
BY ERIK ROBINSON, Columbian staff writer
With the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center due to permanently close in November, congressional Democrats are ramping up pressure on the Bush administration to maintain visitor services at Mount St. Helens.
U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, along with U.S. Reps. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, and Norm Dicks, D-Wash., called on President Bush's chief forestry adviser Wednesday to analyze whether the U.S. Forest Service is capable of managing the 110,000-acre national volcanic monument over the long term.
"While we believe monument staff does a superb job with the resources and direction provided to them, we remain concerned about the public access to and long-term protection of the monument," they wrote in the letter to Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey. Rey could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
CANTWELL: SWITCH TO NATIONAL PARK
Cantwell, meanwhile, reiterated her call for the monument to become Washington's fourth national park along with North Cascades, Olympic and Mount Rainier. On Wednesday afternoon, a Murray spokesman said Washington's senior senator shares Cantwell's interest in exploring the possibility of switching the monument from the Forest Service to the National Park Service.
"Sen. Murray largely feels the same way about it," said Matt McAlvanah, press secretary for Murray. "She's interested in examining the proposal, but she wants to ensure there's time to consult with the appropriate agencies."
Sportsmen's groups have raised concern about losing a prime elk-hunting area if the area becomes a national park. A spokesman for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest said the Vancouver-based forest has, by and large, successfully managed the area since the volcano catastrophically erupted on May 18, 1980.
"We've been managing it for 27 years," said Chris Strebig, spokesman for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. "There's more than just a recreation side. We've got to meet all aspects of the mission - for research, public health and safety."
Ron Freeman, public services manager for the Gifford Pinchot, said it would be hard to divvy up management of recreation sites on the monument from Forest Service attractions just outside the monument - such as Lava Canyon, Marble Mountain Sno-Park and Bear Meadows.
Even so, Gifford Pinchot officials acknowledge they are struggling to maintain services in the face of a funding shortfall. The Mount St. Helens ranger district, which encompasses a bigger area than the monument itself, faces more than $13 million in deferred maintenance.
Over the past three years, the Forest Service's regional and national offices have contributed a temporary $400,000 annual subsidy to the monument. The subsidy ran out with the federal fiscal year that began Oct. 1, and the monument has been eating into an $800,000 reserve fund ever since. Officials expect the reserve fund will be exhausted by the end of this year, even though the agency raised visitor fees from $3 to $8.
The Coldwater center opened with considerable fanfare in 1993.
Dale Robertson, then the chief of the Forest Service, and scores of dignitaries gathered at the site 43 miles east of Interstate 5 on the reconstructed Spirit Lake Memorial Highway. At a cost of $11.5 million, the Coldwater center employed state-of-the-art technology to relate the story of the landscape's recovery after the 1980 eruption.
Four years after Coldwater opened, the Forest Service dedicated Johnston Ridge Observatory.
The observatory, nine miles beyond Coldwater, offers a breathtaking view into the gaping crater from 5 miles away. The observatory, which the Forest Service has closed during the winter in recent years because of snow and budget constraints, sits atop a ridge named for a geologist killed in 1980. It also marks the end of a highway, and last year drew an estimated 250,000 visitors to see the newly erupting volcano.