Aspirations to revitalize tourism and provide more learning options on Mount St. Helens earned state support Wednesday with a $250,000 recreation grant.
The Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office gave the funds to the Mount St. Helens Institute on Wednesday, with 21 organizations across 15 state counties getting similar funding.
“This is the start of actually making something happen,” said Ray Yurkewycz, executive director of the Mount St. Helens Institute.
The Mount St. Helens Institute kickstarted a plan to refurbish the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center into an area with planned timber lodges, educational classes and camping trips, as well as an amphitheater and expanded trail system. This grant marks the first time that public funding has been funneled into the project, Yurkewycz said.
The center, near Coldwater Lake west of Johnston Ridge, was built in 1993 and closed to the public in 2007.
The U.S. Forest Service in 2022 gave the institute a 30-year permit, offering a window of time to gather funding sources and construct the 40-site public campground.
The institute estimates the endeavor will cost about $35 million total and require extensive planning to meet their 2030 deadline — the 50th anniversary of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.
Yurkewycz said they hope to use the $250,000 for “phase one” of the project, which entails building the outdoor spaces and new accommodations in the next two years. The full cost of this phase is about $5 million, he said.
The grants from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office ranged from $35,000 to $250,000 and were given for outdoor recreation facilities that focus on “diverse, urban neighborhoods and rural communities,” the office wrote in a news release.
The state’s recreation access initiative started in 2021 after lawmakers identified a need for more amenities and better access to parks, campgrounds, trails and conservation lands.
“The overwhelming number of applications we received speaks to the need for this kind of funding,” said Megan Duffy, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, in the news release. “Many small and underfunded communities don’t have the resources to apply for grants. This funding will help them get started. Ultimately, we hope the planning leads to construction, and we can increase the number of parks, trails, playgrounds and sports fields in places where there are currently few options for outdoor recreation.”
Of the 99 applicants, fewer than one-fifth of projects received a grant, the recreation and conservation office said in its news release. More than $2.1 million was awarded across all recipients.
“I think part of (why we got the grant) is that Mount St. Helens is such an important place in Washington state but is lacking in overnight access or accommodations,” Yurkewycz said. “This begins allowing folks to spend more time there and fully engage with the landscape.”