National Geographic : 2010 May
• ip- opped." Now the landscape is going back from gray to green, and the lake is becoming more like its former self. At 20 inches and two and a half pounds, the rainbows I saw were as large as any I've caught in a lifetime of shing the Paci c Northwest--- but the sh, too, were becoming more like their former selves. Nine years a er Crisafulli began tagging them, either because Spirit Lake is be- coming less productive or because too many trout now vie for the same amount of food, or both, their average weight has been cut in half. S ome y shers see the ongoing changes in Spirit Lake as a problem---of overpopu- lation---and o er themselves as the solu- tion. " ere's a world-class shery going untapped, and it's the right of the citizens to sh it," Denny Way tells me. e president of the Clark-Skamania Fly shers club, he's pro- posed opening up Spirit Lake before the trout shrink: ten catch-and-release y shers, along with a trained host, one day a week. e scien- tists, meanwhile, note that a dozen neighboring lakes are open to shing but are undervisited and that at Spirit the danger is not the numbers but the precedent: ten shermen or a hundred, the door would be open. Nominally about sh, the argument goes deeper: What should the monument be for? e question is everywhere. If the two decades following the eruption were the monument's boom--- ve visitor centers, hundreds of miles of roads, millions of sightseers---today has the appearance of a bust. e largest center, Cold- water Ridge, where exhibits focused on biologi- cal recovery, closed in 2007 as budgets shrank. e west side has only two full-time interpre- tive rangers; the south and east, only one. e monument's life-support system is volunteers from the nonpro t Mount St. Helens Institute, seasonal workers, and interns. Seventy percent of its roughly $1.8-million recreation budget comes from user fees. e rest is tied to that of Gi ord Pinchot National Forest, and funds increasingly go to firefighting. While statis- tics are scarce---another victim of the budget crunch---monument sta and business owners like Mark Smith agree that visitation has fallen far from the heyday of the 1980s and '90s. A quarter of those who now come are foreigners, who camp out or stay in nearby lodges. Ameri- cans tend to make day-trips, driving up Spirit Lake Memorial Highway and past the shuttered Coldwater center to an overlook, then heading back to Interstate 5. Some hope for a Mount St. Helens National Park, with congressional funding, lodging, and more money for more science. Funds are start- ing to ow, with more than $6 million in federal stimulus last year, plus a $163,000 grant to the Mount St. Helens Institute for an exhibit at the end of the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway. e 30th anniversary means renewed interest. "In my talks at St. Helens I tried to get people to realize that the volcano is not static," says the National Parks Conservation Association's Sean Smith, a former St. Helens ranger now pushing for park status. "I'd hold up an Etch A Sketch and say the monument's like this drawing. e forces of nature control one knob. e public has the other." "In the larger story of St. Helens, park versus monument is a blip in history," says monument sta scientist Peter Frenzen, who started along- side Crisafulli in the weeks a er the eruption. "Access to Spirit Lake is a blip in history." ose who've walked the blast zone for three decades see the beginning of a more profound process. Breakthroughs are fewer---one plant pushing through the ash is no longer a miracle---but If the two decades following the eruption were the monument's boom, today has the appearance of a bust.