Saturday, May 07, 2005

Mt. St.Helen's observatory to reopen soon!

A big crowd is expected at Mount St. Helens on Friday when Johnston Ridge Observatory reopens for the first time since the rumbling mountain forced the evacuation of the viewing area Oct. 2.

No formal events are scheduled for Friday, but the gate shutting off the last few easterly miles of Highway 504 will open at 7 a.m. and the observatory will open at 10 a.m.

“We expect people and satellite trucks will be lined up to get in when we open the gate,” said Tom Knappenberger, spokesman for Mount St. Helens National Monument.

Thanks to current seismic activity and anticipation of the 25th anniversary of the mountain’s massive May 18, 1980, eruption, Knappenberger expects Friday’s opening to be an event in itself.
“Every time I make a call, I get two more messages from people wanting to know about Friday,” he said.

A party crasher could thin Friday’s crowds, however. Forecasts are calling for a chance of showers.

Johnston Ridge is 51/2 miles from St. Helens’ crater and was the most popular viewing area when the mountain awoke in September. When officials implemented a five-mile no-go zone Oct. 2, they also closed Johnston Ridge for the season.

The observatory closes each winter and typically reopens in early May. This season it is expected to remain open until Oct. 30.

In addition to Johnston Ridge opening, much of the five-mile no-go zone is being lifted, allowing access to numerous popular recreation areas.

Hiking trails will be open as usual except for parts of the Truman and Loowit trails that run in front of the mouth of the crater. The Mount Margaret backcountry will remain closed because of snow, but will open as weather conditions permit. The area typically opens in June.

St. Helens is taking reservations for climbing permits, but don’t expect to stand on the rim this summer. The mountain will have to go quiet for two months before the U.S. Geological Survey recommends reopening for climbing.

“Odds are pretty good that’s not going to happen this year,” said Hans Castren, St. Helens’ lead climbing ranger.

The USGS is reporting continued growth of the new lava dome inside the crater accompanied by low rates of seismic activity and a minor production of ash.

“The eruption could intensify suddenly or with little warning and produce explosions that cause hazardous conditions within several miles of the crater and farther downwind,” the most recent USGS report says.

A volcanic alert issued in October remains in effect.

Monument officials expect any future violent eruptions to be similar to the March 8 eruption that sent ash plumes more than 30,000 feet into the sky.

The monument has devised an evacuation plan with input from the Washington Emergency Management Division, local sheriff’s departments, the Washington State Patrol and the state Department of Transportation.

The monument Web site says visitors should be prepared for ash fall and suggests bringing a dust mask and eye protection. Officials also recommend sitting in your car during an ash eruption to minimize exposure.

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