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The peak that blew its top in 1980 is making headlines again. Last November, the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the national monument, shuttered its only year-round visitor center due to lack of funds. That prompted Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to appoint a committee to determine if the site should be run by the National Park Service and perhaps elevated to national park status, both of which could provide more cash to handle the volcano’s 750,000 annual visitors. The committee will meet throughout 2008 and present its recommendations by next spring. Meanwhile, various interest groups are joining the fray, including hikers, hunters, and snowmobilers. Some applaud the proposal; some fear that park status will limit their access.
Yes “Isn’t Mount St. Helens already a national park?” I hear that question all the time because this peak’s contrast of devastation and beauty makes it obviously deserving of that special status. Currently, the USFS allocates $500,000 a year for recreation at the monument, while California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park, which receives half as many visitors, has a budget of $3.7 million. Additional funding for Mount St. Helens could increase ranger staffing, expand trails and campgrounds, and re-open the closed visitor center. Plus, park status wouldn’t automatically restrict hunting and snowmobiling. Congress, which approves all new parks, could allow those activities to continue. Sean Smith, Northwest regional director, National Parks Conservation Association
No Since few mountains can match the international fame of Mount St. Helens, promoting it to national park won’t raise its profile. A generation ago, creating a new park boosted visitor numbers. But today, with 58 parks spread across the nation, including three already in the state of Washington, that benefit is much diminished. Plus, the elevated status could create new wilderness rules that would restrict hunting, berry picking, dog walking, snowmobiling, and other pastimes that people currently enjoy. Instead of solving the money shortfall, tinkering with this volcano will create more problems than it will fix, and add another name to the long list of under-funded park service properties. Chuck Cushman, Executive director, American Land Rights Association
Results of a Backpacker.com poll