National Park or National Monument ?
Monument or National Park? Should Mount St. Helens continue to be managed by the US Dept. of
Agriculture's U.S. Forest Service (USFS) as a National Monument or moved to National Park Status ?
The History: In 1982 President Ronald Reagan and the U.S. Congress established the Mount St. Helens
National Volcanic Monument, a 110,000 acre area around the volcano and within the Gifford Pinchot
National Forest. This area is administered by the U.S. Forest Service - part of the U.S. Dept. Of Agriculture.
The intent of the monument creation was to preserve the area for future study and undisturbed viewing by
following generations while allowing for limited future recreational use. Congress appropriated $200
million to construct the scenic Spirit Lake Highway to the Monument and allowed for the USFS to build three
world-class visitor centers over the following years. The highway and the centers proved quite popular
generating a strong tourist flow to the Monument though never on the scale of a Yellowstone or Grand
Canyon. In a rush to serve the expected tourists additional centers were added resulting in five different
visitor centers on the highway.
Budget Constraints: Over the past decade the USFS has come under increasing budget constraints due
to reduced logging production and more importantly increased costs of fire-fighting which recently has
consumed up to 45% of the Forest Services annual budget. This shrinking budget has forced the USFS to
dramatically reduce its dollars spent on maintaining facilities and services within the Mount St. Helens
National Volcanic Monument - just at the time the maintenance requirements are accelerating. The
Monument budget is forced to compete with USFS forest budgets across the country and for dollars
needed to maintain the Gifford Pinchot National Forest locally. The monument has implemented user fees
and reduced services to stay within budget and transferred ownership of the Silver Lake Visitor Center to
the State Parks. Given the choice of maintaining local campgrounds and roads within the Gifford Pinchot or
maintaining expensive Visitor Centers for tourists the USFS had no choice recently but to close one of their
expensive visitor centers - the $15 million dollar Coldwater Visitor Center. Even this closure still leaves the
Monument with millions in backlogged maintenance needs.
Solutions: Nearly everyone agrees the Monument needs more funding. Regional government
representatives lead by Skamania County Commissioners and Congressman Brian Baird's office have
been studying the issue for the past year as a panel. They will soon recommend to Congress that funds
for the Monument be appropriated under a separate line-item of the USFS budget to avoid being lost to
fire-fighting expenses - or that the Monument be moved under the auspices of the National Park Service -
perhaps making Mount St. Helens a National Park instead of a National Monument. Comparisons to
Mount Lassen National Park - a similar sized entity - show Lassen with an operating budget more than ten
times that of Mount St. Helens. Either solution should generate more dollars for maintenance, and
perhaps recreational development, within the monument.
USFS Roadblocks: The USFS is eager to retain management of the Monument however they have hurt
themselves by developing a reputation of not being aggressive enough in setting their budgets or asking
for the dollars they need to operate the Monument successfully. They have also been accused of being too
slow to embrace public-private for-profit partnership options within their managed borders and being
reluctant to develop the recreation opportunities within the Monument that the original monument plan
called for. The Monument Managers have a very valid argument that there are many, many places to
recreate in our National Forests but only this one special place to preserve our volcanic eruptive history.
However, this is a tough sell to regional residents that lost their recreational playground to an eruption and
are still waiting for the developed recreation that they believe was promised by the Monument creation
legislation over 25 years ago. Some have leveled the charge that the USFS intentionally under-budgets
the Monument to help it meet its objectives of lower-impact on natural resources and reduced visitation
leading to increased preservation of the region.
Consequences: Conversion to a National Park status would likely generate additional tourism and a
significant increase in the maintenance budget for the Monument or Park. However the restrictions
inherent to National Parks may be unpalatable to area citizens including restrictions on outdoor recreation,
hunting, snowmobiling, cross-country travel and more. Even more onerous is the potential negative impact
on the regions primary industry - timber production and harvest. Even air-quality control restrictions
mandated by a National Park could impact nearby industry. Most area timber companies and outdoor
recreationists have taken a position against conversion to a National park for these reasons. News article
& comments. Cowlitz County Commissioners initially forwarded a letter to Congress asking for conversion
to National Park status and then later reversed their position to neutral when citizens educated them on the
potential consequences. This flip-flop diluted the value of their ultimate recommendation. Conversion to a
National Park status continues to be lobbied by National Parks Conservation Association. They recently
commissioned a study by the University of Washington to lobby their case. NPCA-Lobby-Report. The
Forest Service's Mary Wagner makes their case to hold on to management of the volcano in this recent
U.S.F.S. - Presentation. September 18, 2010 Cowlitz County Commissioner Swanson flip-flops a second
time now recommending conversion to a National Park - article.
Feb. 10, 2009: National Park Group sends 40 people to D.C. to lobby for Volcano funding.
Expectation: Given the great importance the timber industry is to both the regions economy and
recreational opportunities, combined with the passion area residents have for outdoor recreation and
hunting near the Monument, many see little reason for the Monument to be converted to a National Park in
the conventional sense. Experts in the economics of tourism point out that Mount St. Helens visitation,
while significant, is a relatively minor driver of the regions economy. As such, conversion of the Monument
to a National Park critics say would do very little percentage-wise to raise the area's standard-of-living with
regards to tourism and may have a negative impact on timber production, recreation & industry.
Mount St. Helens may continue to be run as a Monument - though under guidance of the Park service or at
least receive a special line-item appropriation under the USFS budget. If so, hopefully the USFS will take
steps to improve recreation opportunities within the Monument, be more aggressive in setting
maintenance budgets, and aggressively pursue public-private for-profit partnerships. The USFS currently
does not expect Coldwater Visitor Center to re-open except under private operation, if at all. This leaves
just three true Visitor Centers on the Highway - each with a unique story to tell: Forest learning Center,
Johnston Ridge Observatory, and Silver lake Visitor Center. Coldwater would certainly re-open if the
National Park Service took over management of the Monument. With the development of new recreation
opportunities within the Monument the tourism economy of the region will grow. Whoever ends up
managing the volcano - increased access and recreational opportunities will be the measure of success
most residents are looking for while monument scientists will continue to promote protectionism as the
path of desire. Both have their supporters. If the push for a National Park succeeds it may be the desire to
revisit the management plan or change managers of it that drives the move, not economics.
2010 Update: The Gifford Pinchot Forest Supervisor assisted by the Mount St. Helens Monument Manager
and Washington State Members of Congress have combined to make significant strides in getting
additional funds for the Monument recently. In addition, the new director of the Mount St. Helens Institute
has been doing a monster job in securing new events at the Monument including Bill Nye and the MSH
Vietnam Band concert in addition to securing new exhibit projects and greater visibility for the Institute and
the Monument. The entire Monument management seems to be running full steam ahead - great things
are happening again around Mount St. Helens from Pine Creek to Johnston Ridge.
The National Flood of Media Attention surrounding the 30th Anniversary of Mount St. Helens big blast has
created a lot of interest in the Monument and its future. Visitation has rebounded and there is a renewed
interest in leveraging this exposure to begin moving the structure of the Monument into a National Park.
Some members of the analysis panel believe its only a matter of time.
2012 Update: The USFS has completed window and HVAC repairs to Coldwater former Visitor Center and
has re-branded it as the Mount St. Helens Science and Learning Center open on a limited basis to groups
with advance reservation. While not open to the public the USFS is hoping this re-branding blunts criticism
of their closing of the center. The USFS is also opening up kayaking on Coldwater Lake through
concessionaires and is studying adding biking trails, RV camping and a campground at the Monument.
Under pressure for their lack of access to the monument the USFS is finally making some efforts to
increase access to the monument. They have also funded liaison positions to improve communications
between the USFS and the local community. So far many of the USFS efforts have been critized as window
dressing as they attempt to hold on to management of the monument however the County Commissioners
of the three Counties involved have bought into their efforts and have stated they think the USFS is now
doing a good job.
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Mt. St. Helens National Park. Last Updated 07/20/10
Looking for MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK ?
leaving USFS in
charge. Hopes for
What is today's
Monument will be
converted to a
The Committee made
today to leave the
unchanged, but ask
for more funds for the
Forest Service to
manage it. This step
is years overdue.
convert it to a
Ironically the current
fiscal crisis may have
saved it for the USFS
as they may now get
stimulus dollars for
managing it as part of
Obama's new CCC
$6.2 Million in funding
from stimulus funds !
Co-Chairman calls for