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The Story of Saving Mount St. Helens Offers Lessons for Today's Trail Advocates

Posted by Christina Hickman at May 15, 2019 03:25 PM |

The eruption of Mount St. Helens was a remarkable natural disaster. But the story of Mount St. Helens is also the story of how, when communities come together and speak up for public lands, we can move mountains.

The Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument opened today, and Saturday, May 18, reflect on the 39th anniversary of the Mount St. Helens eruption.

Mount St. Helens by Zi Xian Leong.jpg
 Spring flowers in full summer bloom at Mount St. Helens. Photo by Zi Xian Leong.

The anniversary is a good time to mark the incredible renewal and scientific opportunities made possible by the monument's protection. Today, Mount St. Helen's is a fixture in Washington's recreation landscape; a favorite of hikers, climbers, mountain bikers, trail runners and hunters.

But it's protected monument status wasn't always so certain.

Hiker-advocates key to saving monument

Many vocal hiker-advocates played an important role in protecting Mount St. Helen's. Former WTA board member, crew leader and dedicated trip reporter Susan Saul was a key advocate in helping protect the monument.

"Watching the Mount St. Helens National Monument advance from legislative establishment in 1982 to become: a world-class science, education and research site ..." was one of Susan's most gratifying experiences as a hiker and trail advocate.

Rebuilding from scratch

After the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, trail designers suddenly had a blank slate to work with. They had the mission of designing a trail system that balanced the needs of a fragile ecosystem in recovery with recreation needs. It's a model for why collaborative and careful planning processes are so key to trail systems that stand the test of time.

It's also an effort that WTA and hundreds of volunteers continue to play a key role in through annual maintenance on the monument, and ongoing partnership with the Mount St. Helens Institute and Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

"It is ironic that a trail that is in harmony with the natural landscape takes so much more thought and effort to design and construct," says Ryan Ojerio, Southwest Washington regional manager for WTA. But the initial investment pays off in the added value it brings to hikers’ experiences and the reduction in long-term maintenance costs.

Still working—and winning—for trails

Hikers remain a key voice for trails in the South Cascades and across the state. In just the last few months, Washington Trails Association and hiker-advocates have helped:

We continue to work collaboratively to plan and secure funding for new trail systems in places like the Teanaway, which, like Mount St. Helens have incredible potential to become recreation destinations.

The eruption of Mount St. Helens was a remarkable natural disaster. But the story of Mount St. Helens is also the story of how, when communities come together and speak up for public lands, we can move mountains.

2 ways to speak up for trails

  • Sign up for WTA's action alerts, which makes it easy to speak up for places that need protection.
  • Food, friends and the future of trails. If you live in southwest Washington, join us for our 2019 Hiker Potluck on June 12. WTA's southwest regional manager Ryan Ojerio and Stan Hinatsu, Recreation Staff Officer for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area will lead a collaborative conversation about the future of sustainable trails in this beautiful area. Bring a dish to share and a friend.

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