St. Helens observatory reopens next week

Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument will reopen for the season May 15, with several new exhibits and a new outdoor amphitheater.

Inside the visitor center, people will be able to use new touch-screen exhibits that tell the story of how the volcano and surrounding landscape have recovered since the 1980 eruption.

A newly remodeled high-definition theater with surround sound will enhance the movie-viewing experience, said monument spokesman Ken Sandusky. In addition, a new movie will make its debut sometime this summer.

Also making its debut this summer will be the outdoor amphitheater. It is on the hill to the west-southwest of the observatory.

“It’s a place for interpreters to give their presentations. It’s a pretty big facility, and could seat a couple of hundred people,” monument spokesman Ken Sandusky said. “That will be one of the neatest things this summer.”

The new touch-screen exhibits will offer information on the blast zone recovery and the return of life in the area, Sandusky said.

There also will be new interpretive signs across the monument.

“Some of the ones you couldn’t read last year because of weathering, will be fresh, with new stories this year, creating a new vivid experience,” Sandusky said.

“All the new interpretive information and displays telling the Return to Life story makes this year especially exciting,” monument manager Tom Mulder said in a prepared statement.

Complicating access across much of the monument will be the weather. Late-season snow means many roads might open later than usual.

“Road 99 to Windy Ridge won’t be open for quite some time,” Sandusky said of the main access point on the monument’s east side. “There will be a lot of access issues because of snow across the (Gifford Pinchot National Forest).”

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640