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News / Life / Clark County Life

Mount St. Helens’ Johnston Ridge Observatory won’t reopen until at least 2026

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: February 5, 2024, 3:40pm

Mount St. Helens’ Johnston Ridge Observatory will remain closed to the public until at least 2026, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman said Monday.

A landslide last year damaged the only road to the observatory, state Highway 504, also known as Spirit Lake Highway. The massive slide on May 14 blocked the highway at Milepost 49 and caused catastrophic damage to the Spirit Lake outlet bridge.

The state transportation department cleared the debris and created a temporary one-way bypass large enough to rescue the seven vehicles stranded by the slide. But in November, a culvert failed and water eroded the bypass.

Engineers considered a second attempt at a temporary solution but ruled it out due to harsh winter weather and the site’s steep slope, said Kelly Hanahan, assistant communications manager for the transportation department. She said a temporary solution would ultimately cost more and delay the overall timeline for a permanent repair.

Courtesy of Tim Uhler Video

The permanent project will restore the two-lane roadway and replace the bridge, but that will take time. Just as with any road project, the transportation department must design the replacement, then solicit bids, undertake environmental assessment and procure materials, Hanahan said. Plus, the work site is only accessible six months of the year.

Hanahan said that the goal is to complete repairs by late summer 2026.

“This is our best estimate based on what we know right now,” Hanahan said.

After WSDOT’s work to restore the roadway, the U.S Forest Service will have to reinstate electricity and other necessary systems at the observatory.

“These things can’t happen overnight,” said Gala Miller, a U.S. Forest Service public affairs officer. “And when the slide came down, it not only took down the road, but it took out a lot of infrastructure including electrical lines. So currently Johnston Ridge Observatory is sitting (without electricity) and cold.”

She added, “It’s possible that we do not reopen Johnston Ridge Observatory to the public until spring of 2027, because it’s closed during the winter anyway.”

Although the observatory won’t be open, Miller said there are still many other options to view the volcanic landscape at the Science and Learning Center at Coldwater and along surrounding trails.

“So even though Johnston Ridge isn’t open, there’s still a lot that the public can do and visit and explore,” Miller said.