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Mt St Helens as National Park?

Mt St Helens Explodes on May 18, 1980; USGS Photo

Mt St Helens Explodes on May 18, 1980; USGS Photo

There in an article today in the Columbian, a Vancouver, Washington based newspaper that details the efforts of four US Representatives to get the Mt St Helens Volcanic Monument moved from the management of the US Forest Service to management under the National Park Service. The article, "St. Helens National Park?", addresses the issue of the Forest Service having to permanently close a visitor center within the Monument because of budget shortages. Because of this closure, Washington's two Senators and two Congressman (including Norm Dicks, chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Committee) have asked Mark Rey, the Under Secretary of Natural Resources and Environment to see if the Forest Service is the best agency to provide long term management of the volcanic resource.

In the letter, the representatives state, "while we believe Monument staff does a superb job with the resources and direction…, we remain concerned about the public access to and long-term protection of the Monument." It continues, with emphasis on the budget, "given this funding reality, we are interested in learning more about the Forest Service’s plan at Mount St. Helens and how it expects to protect and expand necessary visitor services and appropriate recreational opportunities while protecting monument resources and wildlife."

The Forest Service and the National Park Service have very different objectives when it comes to land management. The Forest Service manages for multiple use, for activities including logging, hunting, mining, grazing, off-road use, and for hiking and other low impact recreational activities. And under that mission, Mt St Helens has been a working mountain. But since the major eruption in 1980, the mountain has been a poor investment for the Forest Service because all timber of value has been salvaged, and it will be generations before full-scale harvesting could return to the slopes of the mountain. Modern management of the mountain more closely resembles that of the Park Service, with preservation of the resource for science and for visitor enjoyment in the form of elaborate visitor centers and museum exhibits.

I find it somewhat ironic that this debate is happening for a mountain located inside of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Gifford Pinchot was the first person in the United States to graduate with at degree in Forestry. He was also the first person to lead the US Forest Service. It was debates in the late 1800's between Pinchot and John Muir that lead to the distinctions between managing forests for conservation (managing trees as crops) and preservation (letting trees alone), which would eventually be the major distinction between the Forest Service and the Park Service operations.

Also, I find it interesting, that if the problems at Mt St Helens predominantly involve issues surrounding the budget, the four representatives from Washington are in a unique position to do something about it, specifically, give more money to the Forest Service for visitor services on the mountain. Switching the management of the mountain from one cash-starved agency to another cash-starved agency may not solve the fundamental problem of not having enough money to operate the three visitor centers at St Helens. The National Park Service does have experience managing volcanic resources and visitor services at places like Hawaii Volcanoes, Lassen, Mt Rainier, and even Yellowstone. And so, if Congress can provide the additional funds needed for operations, the Park Service may be the best agency to manage the Mt St Helens Volcanic Monument for the future generations.


I personally don't think the Forest Service should be building lavish Visitor Centers. If it's worthy of a Visitor Center, it's worthy of National Park status. Either close the thing permanently and let people enjoy it without all the fuss of National Park status, or make it a NM and fund the thing. I was there a few years ago with my son. We had fun without the VC experience.

Volcanoes are skittish things. We're not really preserving anything -- we're temporarily permitted to place a few buildings on its slopes until the next time it goes kablooey. Then Mother Nature reinvents the park all over again and we're back to building more roads and Visitor Centers and parking lots. But then again, it may be a thousand years before the next big one, so who knows...?

-- Jon

Leave it the way it is. Less is better when nature has done most of the work.

Mt. St. Helens absolutely needs to be a National Park.

First, there's just the overall beauty and remoteness of the site.

Second, there's the preservation of an ecology in repair. There is a fascinating naturalist tale to be told at St. Helens: how the land recovers from trauma.

Third, it's actually a historically significant locale, and as such, deserves NPS status. This was the most momentous volcanic eruption on the continental United States in the history of the country.

If it stays with the forest service, it'll become a playground for loggers and ATVs, and thereby be destroyed.

Gifford Pinchot was going to step on a tarantula at Grand Canyon when Muir stopped him. What the %)#% are you doing! Muir said (heavily paraphrased).

The VC is a f-ing disaster. Some GS-4 flunkie was trying to force me to wait in a HUGE line to pay my fee to hike even though I had an annual pass. I didn't really want to see the VC or deal with hundreds of fat, lazy tourists; I just wanted to be alone with the mountain; I bolted from the line of sheep and sprang for the trail on the east side of the parking lot. After a few miles, I was finally alone with the mountain.

The mountain should be returned to wilderness and the rediculous visitor centers, who hire inept interpreters (like my permanent GS-9 boss, who left me alone at the VC while she sunned on the Fire Island beach), should be abandoned. The VC, although I avoided it, is rediculous.

We need a new land management agency which doesn't actually manage the land. This agency should leave the land to itself and should allow intrepid humans to interact with their environment without policing them (Ala beamis).

Thank you Jeremy for the article.

"This was the most momentous volcanic eruption on the continental United States in the history of the country." If I'm not mistaken the eruption of Lassen Peak on was equally powerful. Any vulcanologists out there know which was bigger?

Do the Hawaiian islands count? I know many native islanders who consider the United States a hostile occupier and so maybe they don't count in the "momentous eruption" category as being in the United States.

I agee wth Frank. Let St. Helens be a place with less bureacracy and more wildness. Let's jear it for basaltic barreness.

As far as the explosivity of Mt. St. Helens, it is smaller than that of other volcanoes that are presently inside of the United States. But, I think the original comment is correct, that since the United States has existed as a country, Mt St Helens has been the biggest. I know that the Mt Mazama eruption, was bigger (the caldera of which is now called Crater Lake), and eruptions inside of what is now Yellowstone are about the biggest ever documented on the planet. Check out this interesting page on Wikipedia, the Volcanic Explosivity Index.

From the USGS: "Dramatic eruptive activity in the Cascades has been rare so far in the 20th century. Until the recent eruptions at Mount St. Helens, the only Cascade volcano that had a major eruption during this century was Lassen Peak in California. A series of intermittent eruptions of steam and volcanic ash beginning in May 1914 and lasting until 1921 climaxed, during the 4 days from May 19 to 22, 1915, in a series of violent events comprising small lava flows, massive lava-triggered mudflows, and explosive eruptions of ash. The most destructive of these eruptions included a nearly horizontal (lateral) blast that reached only about one-fifth as far as the recent Mount St. Helens lateral blast."

Hey, it's not the size of the eruption, it's the... well, I don't know. But it is the most significant eruption of the 20th century in the Cascades and it ought to be left alone, IMO.

a blanket statement about if it's good enough to have a visitor center then it should be an national park is too black and white. there are *plenty* of urban interface (public lands) areas that aren't nps administered and need visitor centers, but might not cut it as a park unit. i think it's a limiting view - america's public lands are too diverse and serve far too many roles other than just the niche the nps lands fill. and i'm not just talking about the oil & gas industry happily coexisting with atv'ers.

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