The drive from Castle Rock to Johnston’s Ridge Observatory now comes with a personal guide, as the Cowlitz County Historical Society launched an audio tour Friday called “Journey to Johnston Ridge.”
“I’m very excited,” said Cowlitz County Historical Museum Director Joseph Govednik. “This is an opportunity to provide something that’s unique and local to enhance the history and tourist experience.”
The audio tour is a seven-track CD or digital download that allows drivers to start on State Route 504 at Castle Rock and go up to Johnston Ridge, listening to a narrative of the area’s history.
“A lot of it focuses on the 1980 eruption,” Govednik said, but the hour-long tour also describes natural features and other history.
“It’s a story of what you might see as you’re driving up, like reforestation after the devastation from the blast,” he said. “It talks about some of the natural history in the area and just covers a broad range of topics.”
The free tour is broken up into segments, timed to match the speed of a driver following the speed limit up SR 504.
One track will get drivers from Castle Rock to the Mount St. Helens visitor’s center, the next from the visitor’s center to Toutle, then to Kid Valley. From Kid Valley, the next track describes the ride to the Forest Learning Center, then up to the Science Learning Center before the final track brings visitors to Johnston Ridge Observatory.
Govednik said getting the timing right required a lot of drives up and down the mountain, but “we feel like we got it dialed in.”
The download is available at cowlitzcountyhistory.org, and the CDs are currently available at the museum and Mount St. Helen’s Visitor Center at Seaquest State Park. Other locations will be added next week to include the Kelso-Longview Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center in Kelso, local hotels and, once re-opened, the Castle Rock Visitor Information Center, Govednik said.
If using a phone, he said it’s important to download the tracks before you leave, because there is limited cellular service on the mountain. Each CD also has a QR code on the jacket that can be scanned to download the tour.
“We wanted it to be available for free,” Govednik said. “We want to use it to encourage tourism and bring awareness about Cowlitz County and the impact of Mount St. Helens particularly.”
Production of the audio tour and the CDs were funded by a county lodging tax grant and the museum, Govednik said. He applied for the grant after seeing the potential for a driving tour experience.
The project was awarded a county grant of $2,250 in 2020, but the deadline to use the funds was extended to the end of 2021 due to COVID-19. The Cowlitz County Historical Society covered the remaining 25% of the total $3,000 project, he said.
“We had this idea of an audio tour that goes up State Route 504, up to Johnston Ridge Observatory from Castle Rock,” he said. “We started asking people if they had heard of anybody else who had done that yet, and it didn’t seem like anybody had.”
Once drivers reach Johnston Ridge Observatory, Govednik said there will be a place people can leave the CDs if they don’t want to keep them, allowing the tours to be recycled for others to use. Seaquest Visitor’s Center and the museum also will take back the CDs.
“Or, people take it with them home and give it to a friend,” he said. “Then they might come down and visit.”