LONGVIEW — A large-scale plan to develop the center at Coldwater Ridge for education, recreation and tourism activities moved forward Wednesday when the Forest Service issued the Mount St. Helens Institute a 30-year operating permit for the site.
“We look forward to working with our federal partners and the communities we serve to improve facilities and expand access to the outdoors,” said Ray Yurkewycz, Mount St. Helens Institute executive director, in a press release. “This is an opportunity to connect people from near and far with the volcano’s unique cultural and natural history.”
The Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center, near Coldwater Lake west of Johnston Ridge, was built in 1993 and closed to the public in 2007. The Mount St. Helens Institute partnered with the Forest Service and began offering some youth education programs and public events at the site in 2011.
The institute, a nonprofit founded in 1996, provides youth education programs, field seminars and guided exploration around the volcano.
The institute wants to develop the Coldwater site into the Mount St. Helens Lodge & Education Center, with lodges, cabins, campgrounds and facility renovations.
The changes would expand outdoor education opportunities for kindergarten through 12th-grade students, allowing the institute to host 5,000 to 6,000 of them annually for overnight outdoor school experiences, according to the press release.
It also would provide new amenities and overnight accommodations for monument visitors. These investments would support the local economy by increasing visitor access to Mount St. Helens, creating jobs, and generating more tax revenues for the county and state, the press release states.
The institute has created a master plan with Hennebery Eddy Architects and is conducting fundraising and feasibility assessments, and pursing private, state and federal funding for the project.
The Cowlitz County commissioners in late March sent a letter of support for the project.
“Partnerships such as this strengthen our conservation education programming while benefitting local communities.” said Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Ranger Rebecca Hoffman, “The Forest’s decision to issue these 30-year operating permits to Mount St. Helens Institute is a result of our confidence in the Institute’s vision and due diligence.”