Just in time for another anniversary of the catastrophic Mount St. Helens eruption, the U.S. Forest Service is reopening an architecturally-striking visitor center. The Coldwater Ridge facility has been closed for the last four seasons. The center reopens next week with a new mission and purpose.
Coldwater Ridge was the first visitor center to open close to the volcano in the blast zone. That was in 1993. It was later eclipsed when another Forest Service visitor center -- Johnston Ridge Observatory -- opened even closer to the Mount St. Helens crater.
Monument scientist Peter Frenzen says a growing maintenance backlog ultimately forced Coldwater Ridge to close in 2007. "We were able to fix the leaky roofs and fix the moto-mechanical systems that were failing," Frenzen says. "Now we are embarking on a new chapter at Coldwater, repurposing the building as the Mount St. Helens Science and Learning Center."
Frenzen says federal economic stimulus dollars paid for a lot of the building repairs and renovations. At first, the education center will open only for scheduled events and activities. In the future, Frenzen hopes a group campground can be added. That remains a notable gap among the volcano's visitor amenities.
Next week, the national volcanic monument will mark the 32nd anniversary of the devastating 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. This Sunday, the Johnston Ridge Observatory at the end of State Highway 504 reopens for the season.
On the anniversary day itself, May 18th, admission to the observatory area will be free. Also that day, the Forest Service will offer tours of the refurbished Science and Learning Center at Coldwater.
Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network