The COVID-19 pandemic is once again making most events commemorating the 41st anniversary of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens virtual, but the mountain itself slowly is becoming open to the public as snow melts and pandemic restrictions ease.
On the morning of May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted, blowing away the top of the mountain and triggering landslides, mud flows and floods that killed 57 people, destroyed 200 homes and flattened 230 square miles of forest.
Last year, an abundance of 40th anniversary of events had been planned, but were forced online or canceled when the pandemic shut down the county and state.
Gifford Pinchot National Forest spokesperson Gala Miller said the Forest Service still is waiting to see if the Johnston Ridge Observatory will be open to the public this year.
“It remains closed, but the Forest Service is evaluating a potential opening with some reduced services later this summer,” she said. “However, the road to Johnson Ridge, SR 504, is currently open as is the parking lot. You can park there and the viewing plaza, which is outdoors, is open for the public to view the volcano.”
As warmer weather begins to thaw out the mountain, several trails are reopening as well, Miller said. The popular 2.5 mile Hummocks loop trail and portions of the Eruption Trail are snow-free, but hikers should be ready for plenty of snow elsewhere on the mountain.
With the center closed, Miller cautioned the nearest public restroom is seven miles away at the Coldwater Lake area.
On the south side of the mountain, Ape Cave is reopening May 18 after a 14-month closure. Miller said the popular site wasn’t just closed due to COVID-19, but also for planned upgrades like new vault toilets and a timed reservation ticket system to help address longstanding overcrowding problems that threatened “the delicate cave ecosystem.”
Two-hour timed reservations are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May 18 through Sept. 30 on recreation.gov.
While the Forest Service does not have big plans to mark year 41, Miller said its partners with the United States Geological Survey Cascade Volcano Observatory and the Mount St. Helens Institute will host several virtual events.
The Cascade Volcano Observatory will hold a question-and-answer session on Reddit about volcanoes and earthquakes starting at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Mount St. Helens Institute spokesperson Jared Stewart said at 6 p.m. Tuesday, the institute will hold a Virtual Views & Brews with Oregon Museum of Science and Industry science educator Jenny Crayne on ShakeAlert, an earthquake early warning system in the Pacific Northwest. Crayne also will talk about how science and technology have advanced since 1980 to help the region better understand and prepare for tectonic hazards.
A link to the live stream will be posted 15 minutes before the event on the Mount St. Helens Institute Facebook page.
“We’re also producing a short video highlighting our unique relationship with Mount St. Helens, as are several other organizations,” Stewart said, all of which will be hosted on the institute’s YouTube channel.
The Cowlitz County Historical Museum also is producing a video, museum director Joseph Govednik said, about the vessel Tokai Maru that almost crashed into the Lewis and Clark Bridge when it got hit with eruption debris on the Columbia River.
“We have a chain link from the anchor chain in our collection that was dredged up a year after the eruption,” Govednik said.
The North Clark County Historical Museum also has an exhibit about the mountain before, during, and after the major eruption. The museum, located in Amboy, is not open during the week, but will be open from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday for viewing.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Johnston Ridge Observatory.