Another request has been made on Congress to direct the National Park Service to study the possibility of transferring Mount St. Helens from the U.S. Forest Service so it can be designated a national park.
In a letter outlining the request to U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, Mount St. Helens is portrayed as a monument in decline, one that has seen annual visitation drop from 1 million in the years immediately following the volcano's eruption to fewer than 250,000 today.
"Paralleling this decline has been the closure of visitor centers and other visitor services. All this has negatively impacted the economies of the monument’s gateway communities," reads the letter, which was signed by more than 30 local elected officials, business owners, community leaders, conservationists, and park supporters.
This is just the latest request for such a designation. As long ago as 2007 there was an effort in Congress to transfer the mountain from the Forest Service to the Park Service. At the time proponents of the move referred to Forest Service budget woes that led to the closure of a visitor center.
“Adding Mount St. Helens to the National Park System would help improve regional prestige, increase visitation, enhance recreation and conservation opportunities,” said Mark Plotkin, former director of the Cowlitz County Tourism Bureau.
The letter specifically asks Rep. Herrera Beutler to sponsor legislation seeking a special resources study that would require the Park Service to investigate the national significance of Mount St. Helens, and determine whether its inclusion in the park system is warranted.
"Mount St. Helens is likely the most iconic landscape currently not in the National Park System. However, its natural, cultural, and historic wonders are on par with other national park sites. Our mountain, our communities, and state deserve the benefits that will come with national park designation. We encourage you to support legislation calling for the investigation of a Mount St. Helens national park," reads the letter.
“It’s time to take a serious look into making Mount St. Helens a national park,” said Mark Smith, owner of the Eco Park Resort. “A special resource study is the best way to get all the facts on the table about adding our mountain to the park system.”
Community leaders believe transferring management of Mount St. Helens to the Park Service would benefit the regional economy, including Washington’s 3rd Congressional District. Recent studies reveal that national parks are huge economic engines, pumping nearly $13 billion in economic activity into gateway communities, as well as supporting more than a quarter million jobs.
For every dollar spent on national parks, four dollars are returned to the economies of gateway communities, according to studies prepared for the National Parks Conservation Association. More than seven million people visited Washington’s national parks last year alone, and national parks nationwide received near record-breaking visitors, despite one of the toughest economies in decades.
“Mount St. Helens is an international gem, worth preserving for our children and grandchildren to enjoy. The mountain and its surrounding communities deserve the prestige, recognition, and stability that would come with making it a national park,” said Sean Smith, policy director with NPCA and a former Mount St. Helens ranger.