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Should the NPS Be Given Mount St. Helens?

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. U.S. Forest Service photo.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. U.S. Forest Service photo.

Both the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service are hamstrung by deficient budgets. In the case of the Forest Service, one symptom of its financial plight is that the agency wants to close a visitor center at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. That move has spurred calls that the Park Service be given the monument to manage, and the National Parks Conservation Association now is echoing those calls.

But should Mount St. Helens be given such status? As Jeremy Sullivan pointed out a month ago, (S)witching 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.

Too, he pointed out that Washington state's congressional delegates, the ones who now are being lobbied to push the Park Service to take over Mount St. Helens, could solve the immediate problem by working to better fund the Forest Service.

But the NPCA seems to see the Forest Service's budgetary struggles as a perfect opening to add another jewel to the park system.

“Mount St. Helens is a national gem. The volcano and the surrounding communities deserve the recognition that come with national park status,” says Sean Smith, NPCA's Northwest regional director. “Placing Mount St. Helen’s under the care of the Park Service would ensure the volcano’s natural wonders are preserved for the enjoyment of present and future generations.”

While it'd be hard to argue that Mount St. Helens isn't worthy of park status, can the Park Service afford it at this point in time? After all, the agency already has an $8 billion backlog of maintenance needs, and its annual budget falls roughly $800 million shy of what the agency needs, according to the NPCA.

At a time when the Park Service is leasing facilities to private interests because it can't afford to maintain them, I wonder how it could possibly afford to take on Mount St. Helens.

NPR Audio Coverage from Seattle Affiliate:
Jeers Outnumber Cheers For Volcano National Park Idea


Yes of course. the more publicity the better it is

Commissioners rescind support for national park around volcano
By Barbara LaBoe
Oct 31, 2007

Link here:

I agree, I worked for the Forest Service in a Ranger Station very near to the Monument and they do not know how to manage an area for the person that just wants to visit the area. Thier specialty is managing it for many uses, thus thier motto. The best example is thier pass system, for most people this is very, very confusing. A typical visitor sees Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and automaticly think it is part of the National Park Service and all it's standard nuances.

THANK YOU, Mr. Williams. I absolutely agree.

@Frank: "Leaving land to recover naturally ("preserving"?) needs no funding". This is quite simplified, because there is substantial research and documentation but let's say it were true. But a National Monument (even more a potential National Park) at MSH is about access to the recovering landscape and interpreting the processes to the interested public. And this requires substantial funding for constructing access roads and parking, visitor centers, maintaining them, enforcing the rules, manning exhibitions and information desks and what ever else is needed.

Congress wanted MSH to be a National Monument, it was funded lavishly in the beginning. The Silver Lake Visitor Center had everything imaginable and got awards for architecture and exhibitions. And even after almost 30 years there are many Americans and tourists from overseas who want to see a recently erupted volcano, see the marred landscape and recovering flora and fauna. There obviously is demand for education, interpretation and/or simply the entertainment and the thrill to see the forces of nature. The Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center is not to be closed for lack of visitors.

It MSH worth to be managed on the federal level? Congress said yes in 1982. This can be reevaluated, of course. Are there established criteria? You may want to check license plates at the visitor parking. Or you may take a look at the international interest MSH gets. Just one indicator might be Wikipedia. Right now(*) there are 28 so called interwiki links at - meaning that besides English, people from 28 other languages and cultures find Mount St. Helens worth an article in their language, including Bahasa Indonesia, Estonian and Croatian language.

* permanent link to the current version:

RE: Steamtown

From Wikipedia:

Allegations had been made, especially within the mass media, that Steamtown was a "pork barrel" project prior to its building. Some criticized the United States National Park Service, which runs Steamtown, for using mostly Canadian locomotives (inherited from the Steamtown USA operation in Bellows Falls, VT) as working locomotives, although many American locomotives and cars are on display. While the collection within the museum and the rolling stock for excursions have been restored, many pieces of rolling stock that are quite visible to the public are in deplorable condition and face an uncertain future. Some of the most significant pieces of rolling stock (i.e. DL&W 565, one of two surviving Lackawanna Railroad steam engines) have not been restored.

It also costs $5M to operate; that's more than many "crown jewels".

RE: Saint Helens

Leaving land to recover naturally ("preserving"?) needs no funding, and enjoying it in its natural state costs nothing. The funding is for the public's enjoyment of paved mountain highways and extravagantly expensive visitor centers. And its parasitic managers take a cut. Preserving places is cheap; enjoying places in our modern mammonish age is expensive.

MSH, because of its easy access to the public and science affords a unique ability to watch the natural processes of regeneration - a regeneration process which requires park status protection. There are lots of areas outside the monument where Weyerhauser and others can study the effects of timber planting and other intrusions into the natural cycle, but unless MSH is fully protected from "use," it's value to science and to the public's interests as a scenic geological area will become even more compromised than it has been already.

No one's suggesting that every time a volcano blows in the lower 48 it be turned into a NP... though to be honest, all that have erupted in historical times are in NPs EXCEPT Mount St. Helens... the one we have the chance to watch regenerate both biologically and geologically from the its major eruptive event.

As for the idea that the Forest Service will somehow become an instrument of protection rather than use, if Gifford Pinchot couldn't be convinced, it ain't gonna happen 100 years later. The Forest Service may learn how to better allow private use, but it will never cease private use. It's completely contrary to their mission.

And therein lies my argument. MSH has historical, geological, scenic, scientific and cultural value for all Americans. It deserves to be protected for future generations. It will not be under the Forest Service.

I think it's a little harsh to say that Steamtown isn't 'nationally significant' because it and Golden Spike are the only 2 NPS units that I am aware of that preserve our nation's railroading history. Without railroads, the West wouldn't have been opened nearly was quickly.

That being said, there are many NPS sites that are worthy of protection, but aren't nationally significant...

President, CHS SPEAK (CHS Students Promoting Environmental Action & Knowledge)
Founder and President, CHS Campus Greens

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