Outfitters picked for Coldwater Lake

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CHELATCHIE — Two outfitters have been approved by the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument to offer guided kayaking trips on scenic Coldwater Lake this year.

It is the first time the 750-acre lake, created when the 1980 eruption dammed Coldwater Creek, will be open to outfitter and guide companies.

Kayakers, canoers and boats with electric motors have been allowed on the lake since 1993.

NorthWest EcoExcursions of Longview and Cascadia Adventure Education School of Trout Lake are the two applicants to be allowed to provide trips from May through October.

A pool of 300 weekend and 150 weekday “service days’’ during the six months have been established by the Forest Service.

If a guide takes nine clients out on Coldwater Lake for a morning that counts as nine service days.

Tracie Driver of NorthWest EcoExcursions said her company will offer trips for $90 per person.

The trips will provide two to three hours on the water plus instruction prior to launching. They will be focused on beginners, with families welcome.

Telephone and email efforts to reach Cascadia Adventure Education School were unsuccessful.

The school’s website says it offers courses for youth ages 13 to 19 to learn kayaking, backpacking, rafting and rock climbing, along with leadership training and environmental service.

Tom Mulder, monument manager, said the Forest Service decided to loosen restrictions on use of the lake after deciding that it’s not as important for scientific research as are other parts of the monument.

“Over time, it’s become obvious it has a lot of value recreationally, and it is not a priority area scientifically,” Mulder told the Longview Daily News.

“It’s not like Spirit Lake,” where research is the focus.

At Spirit Lake, the public may approach on only one trail and are restricted from going out on the water.

Other recreational enhancements may come to the Coldwater Lake area, he said.

“We’re trying to make what we think is an orderly transition to recreation.”

The Forest Service might allow overnight camping along Coldwater Lake at sites accessible by water, Mulder said.

Currently, hikers may take the trail along the lake but the only designated campsites are miles away in the Mount Margaret backcountry.

The Forest Service’s Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center, which overlooks Coldwater Lake, has been closed to the public since 2007.

In the last couple of years, $1.7 million of federal stimulus money has paid for replacing the visitor center’s leaking windows, repairing the roof and other work.

“We’re slowly increasing the use,” Mulder said, with classes and Forest Service training sessions.

There are no plans to reopen the 28,000-square-feet facility as a full-fledged visitor center, he added.

Mulder said the Forest Service would like to get a concessionaire to reopen the cafeteria, but it looks doubtful that will happen for the coming tourist season.

The Forest Service also is exploring development of a campground nearby, operated either by the agency or a concessionaire, Mulder said.

Two deterrents to establishing a campground near Coldwater Ridge are a shortage of flat space and the short season, he said.