Mount St. Helens RV Park Recovery Effort Gets Boost

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October 6, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

After years of work, volunteers and Cowlitz County officials say Harry Gardner Park in southwest Washington could be back to its pre-Mount St. Helens eruption condition by springtime.

A $320,000 county grant is paying for RV and tent camping sites, as well as a pavilion, fire pits and day-use sites. Eventually, another area will include more day use sites at the nearly 80-acre park along the Toutle River, The Daily News, Longview, reported.

"This will be a huge step in really moving things forward," said Sandy Baltazar, co-chair of the Friends of Harry Gardner Park volunteer group that has donated countless hours cleaning up the area. "This puts it on a fast track for completing things and being able to bring the park back to the people."

The park was heavily used before mud flows from the volcano's eruption on May 18, 1980, buried it under more than three feet of mud and debris. The land lay abandoned for decades and became a dumping ground until volunteers began cleaning it up bit by bit about six years ago.

"The first work party was four people," Baltazar recalled. "And it just sort of grew from there. Soon we had 30 people at a time and big machinery up there."

The goal, she said, is to restore to its condition on May 17, 1980. Once the latest work is completed — perhaps by May — that part of the goal will be achieved, said Ron Junker, the county's parks and recreation director.

"The community should be really proud of itself," added group co-chairman Elmer Nofziger. He said everyone from neighbors to Toutle Lake School District students have pitched in.

The park is named for Harry Gardner, who donated the original 10 acres in 1964.

Impressed by the community effort to reclaim the park, the county reactivated the land to park status in 2008 and bought 54 adjacent acres to expand the area. Earlier this year, commissioners also awarded the grant for phase one of the restoration project, including 11 RV sites, 12 tent sites and more day use areas. The RV sites will be a "partial hook up" with a dump station. With the planned pavilion and fire pit, officials say the park will be a natural choice for reunions and community celebrations.

Ideally, the project could use $475,000. Commissioners awarded $320,000 from rural economic development dollars, the largest they awarded to any project this year. Junker said they'll do as much of the planned work as possible with the current funds and also seek other grants to make up the difference on future phases.

The county money comes from the county's sale tax proceeds and must be used on economic development projects.

With year-round camping, organizers estimate the new campground will help bring in about $660,000 in local revenue annually. That figure should increase to nearly $2 million annually within five years, according to the grant application. A shortage of overnight accommodations has been repeatedly cited as a discouragement to bringing more tourists to the area.

Work could start as soon as November, depending no bids and paperwork.

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