At 59, Greg Drew, owner of Drew’s Grocery in Toutle, is old enough to remember tourism before Mount St. Helens erupted.
So many people went up the road to hunt and fish and camp at Spirit Lake, he said, that there were traffic jams coming down the highway. His family ran the grocery then, too, and he remembers lines of cars stretching down the road, waiting to get into the store parking lot.
Except for brief periods during massive federal construction projects, business has been bad ever since 1980, he said.
“Tourism never really recovered,” he said. “People say to us, ‘You guys must have terrific business now that the mountain has blown.’ They have no idea. It’s nothing like it was.”
Back in the early 1980s, Drew says, he and a lot of other locals fought the idea of a Mount St. Helens National Park, fearing the U.S. Park Service would restrict use too much. Now, he says, he wishes they had kept their mouths shut.
“It’s been 30 years now and things just haven’t gone well with the monument under the Forest Service,” he said. “The money hasn’t been there, and they haven’t taken an interest in developing the area at all. They have other priorities.
“I think the development the Park Service would do would create jobs, more activity, give people places to go and things to do up here.”
He thinks the Forest Service’s multiple-use policy unfairly favors science.
“I realize we have to protect some of the places on the mountain,” he said, “but there are just acres and acres that could be used by people to enjoy the outdoors. I believe some areas should be studied, but, my gosh, they want the whole thing.”
Sam Gardner, 58, grew up in the Toutle Valley too. He’s a logger by profession, but two weeks ago he and his wife, Patty, took over a tourist landmark on the Spirit Lake Highway, a restaurant called 19 Mile House.
Gardner says he’s glad he owns timberland and doesn’t have to depend on volcano tourist traffic for a living.
“This is a five-month-a-year business,” he said. “From September to May there’s not any reason to come up here. They stopped plowing the road.
“Winter is the key,” Gardner said. “We’ve got a dead-end road up there and lots of beautiful snow and basically a no-use policy. My gosh, there’s opportunities for winter recreation that are just amazing.”
Also, Gardner said, visitors need a place to stay overnight.
“All these nice young families get up here and find there’s no place to stay,” he said.
He thinks the Mount St. Helens National Monument should be opened up to more hunting and that Spirit Lake, now set off for scientific research, should be opened to fishing.
“God forbid somebody comes up here and makes some money and provides some jobs, right?”
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693 firstname.lastname@example.org