Mount St. Helens wasn’t in the mood for visitors Saturday.
The volcano remained shrouded in clouds throughout the day, disappointing several hundred visitors who made the trip up the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway on the 33rd anniversary of the mountain’s cataclysmic eruption on May 18, 1980.
“The road up to Johnston Ridge is clear and beautiful,” said Kristine Cochrane, director of the visitors’ centers at Mount St. Helens National Monument. “It’s nothing like it’s been in past years when we’ve had walls of snow on the sides of the road.”
“Unfortunately,” Cochrane said, “most of the mountain is in the clouds. Building up to our opening we had some beautiful weather. Since then there’s been some storms and stuff moving through so there hasn’t been a lot to see.”
Mount St. Helens seized the world’s attention on May 18, 1980, when the largest landslide in history peeled off the mountain’s north side, triggering a sideways eruption so powerful it knocked down trees 17 miles away and stripped almost all vegetation from more than 230 square miles.
Fifty-seven people died during the eruption. Damages were assessed at more than $1 billion.
Several family members of those killed in the eruption gathered Saturday at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, an informal reunion that’s become an annual tradition for them.
The Forest Service, which manages the Monument, waived entrance fees at the visitors’ center in honor of the May 18 anniversary, and the annual “It’s a Blast” publicity campaign and fundraiser took place last week.
In spite of determined efforts, however, tourism at the mountain has failed to provide the lucrative income stream that Southwest Washington boosters hoped for following the eruption.
For years, a vocal faction has blamed the Forest Service, complaining that the agency is unaccustomed to running tourist attractions and that the U.S. Park Service would do a better job raising awareness and attracting tourists.
The effort to turn the 110,000-acre Mount St. Helens National Monument into a national park suffered a setback recently when Southwest Washington Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, announced she would not seek a federal study on the issue.
Preservation of the monument and the surrounding land, which scientists say offers an invaluable laboratory for study, got a boost earlier this month when the Vancouver-based Columbia Land Trust finalized the purchase of 2,330 acres of forestland and riparian habitat southeast of the mountain.
The purchase protects the land from most development.
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693