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News / Northwest

Cowlitz Tribe donates $900K to Mount St. Helens Institute

By Isabel Vander Stoep, The Chronicle
Published: March 7, 2023, 2:34pm

CENTRALIA — In one of the largest donations it has ever made, the Cowlitz Tribal Foundation this week announced the earmarking of $900,000 for the Mount St. Helens Institute.

The institute called this a “major milestone” donation toward its vision for a lodge and expanded education center.

In an interview with The Chronicle last summer, Executive Director Ray Yurkewycz said the current status of the institute wasn’t “sustainable.” Despite its “amazing location and opportunity,” Yurkewycz said, there are no overnight accommodations for the national volcanic monument’s 300,000 visitors per year.

The tribe’s investment, according to a news release this week, will play a critical role in increasing access for youth outdoor school, establishing a campground and improving trails and recreation. It’s also the first step in the nonprofit’s vision toward founding the Mount St. Helens Lodge and Education Center, the release said.

“Our long-standing partnership with Mount St. Helens Institute is extraordinary,” said Timi Marie Russin, tribal foundation manager for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. “(The group’s) excellent work allows everyone to explore our region’s beauty, teaches our children the importance of our environment, welcomes guests and provides a space to foster relationships within the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s ancestral mountains.”

The proposed center will include overnight stays and outdoor school. It’s likely to be a $10 million project, with $2 million raised for so far. The tribe’s gift comes on the heels of $300,000 from private donors, $250,000 from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, and $210,000 from the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities.

“We are all about advancing understanding and stewardship of the earth through science education and exploration of volcanic landscapes,” said Yurkewycz last summer, later adding, “How do we think bigger to meet the needs of youth education and outdoor school and other business? … There’s so much more to do here.”

For more information about the institute’s long-term goals, visit mshinstitute.org/about_us/MSHLEC.