Commercializing a National Volcanic Monument
I've long reported upon the slide of Mt. St. Helens toward privatization and
have twice introduced current news articles on this topic by repeating the
words of a warning I penned in 2000. To introduce the appended article from
today's Oregonian I'm returning to that same well yet again.
Subject: Commercializing a National Volcanic Monument
Date: October 18, 2005 12:23:27 PM PDT
Some of you will remember the words which follow. In offering them today, I
propose that we look upon the impending transmogrification of Mt. St. Helens
not so much as a loss, but as a call to action. In the ongoing war against
the Corporate Takeover of Nature, losses were inevitable. Perhaps Mt. St.
Helens could not be saved. But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of
areas that will likely be targeted for industrial wreckreation development
in much the way that Mt. St. Helens was targeted. I hope, and trust, that
many of those areas will be saved and that some of them will be saved by
efforts led by some of you.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Scott Silver" < firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Sunday, March 05, 2000 11:08 PM
Subject: industrial tourism leads to privatization
Below is a perfect example of how the misadventures into
the realm of industrial tourism will lead to privatization
of our nation's public lands. The article which appears
below was abstracted from The Olympian - March 2.
The elements of the story are as follows.
1) Tax dollars are used to build an unprofitable and
unsustainable tourism attraction on public lands. In this
particular example, it happens to be a visitor center at
Mt. St. Helens.
2) Congress then cuts the operating budget of the managing
agency so as to ENSURE that the expensive new facility can
not be adequately operated or maintained.
3) The Federal Mangers are then instructed to start
charging entrance or user fees as a way to make up for
these deliberate Congressional funding cuts.
4) But, even with these user fees, the Federal Manager is
incapable of operating the facility at a profit.
5) So, there is simply no option other than to turn the
facility over to the private sector to operate.
But, of course, the new private operator can not run the
EXISTING facility at a profit any more than could the
Federal Manager because there is no real inherent
efficiently in private ownership as compared to public
However, no private operator can be expected to run the
facility at a loss. So, the private operator will be
permitted to add a restaurant, a gift shop, an IMAX
theater and whatever else it takes to turn the facility
into a full-service profitable business.
Meanwhile, the USFS will be thrilled to accept a small cut
of the gross for allowing this tourist trap to be operated
on the forest. Some people may even call this a "win-win."
I've been calling it: "The Corporate Takeover of Nature."
THE ARTICLE FROM 2000 has been replaced with the
following article, published today in the Oregonian.
---------- begin quoted -------------
link to www.oregonlive.com
Mount St. Helens open to bids
Budget Officials hope commercial uses, such as helicopter tours, will make
up for falling aid at the volcano
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
MICHAEL MILSTEIN - The Oregonian
A visit to Mount St. Helens may soon offer more than a steaming volcano.
Think commercial helicopter tours, snowmobile and mountain bike rentals,
yurt camps, vacation cabins and mobile snack carts at scenic viewpoints.
The U.S. Forest Service is entertaining bids for those and other privately
run operations at the national volcanic monument. The goal is twofold: Offer
new recreation options and, officials hope, bring in enough money to make up
for declining federal support.
Commercial operations at the 110,000-acre monument surrounding the volcano
have mostly been limited to cafeterias and gift shops tucked into visitor
centers and a few climbing guides.
Now, a prospectus issued by the Forest Service opens the door to the largely
undeveloped monument set aside by Congress in 1982. It seeks private bids to
run the government visitor centers, plus a range of possible new offerings,
such as guided hikes for a fee, construction of tourist cabins and boat
rentals on Coldwater Lake.
One of the possibilities would convert more than half the space devoted to
explanatory displays and exhibits at Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center to
commercial uses such as gift sales.
A goal is for private companies to pick up more of the tab for maintaining
deteriorating buildings, said Steve Nelson, an outdoor recreation planner at
the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which oversees the monument. The fees
they pay the government also would go toward upkeep of the monument.
The situation reflects the dismal budget outlook at Mount St. Helens, a kind
of financial orphan within the federal government, and an increasingly
controversial push to substitute private enterprise for government agencies
on public lands.
Years of budget shortfalls have left the monument with a maintenance backlog
of about $13.4 million, according to a 2003 total. Managers can scarcely
afford to fix leaky roofs, replace outdated exhibits and keep movies at
visitor centers running.
Its annual funding is about half of what officials estimate they need to pay
for a full range of services, from clean bathrooms to geological talks.
Officials hope their embrace of the private sector will help bring in money
in other ways.
"If you have someone else operating the facility, and if they're cleaning
the toilet instead of the Forest Service cleaning the toilet, that's a
reduced cost to the Forest Service," Nelson said.
But he said officials will not let private proposals push commercial
development too far. "We're very conscious of all that, and we share that
concern," he said.
The government is seeking bids on a series of permits for private companies
to assume existing operations, such as visitor centers and restaurants, in
different sections of the monument. The contracts may be worth millions --
gift and food sales at Coldwater Ridge brought in more than $2 million in
the past three years.
Companies can propose taking over all or part of the visitor center
operations, although Nelson said he expects the Forest Service to maintain
some presence. The companies could charge their own fees in addition to fees
charged by the government, he said.
As part of the permits to take effect next fall, companies also can propose
commercial activities not offered now.
Officials said anything would be considered as long as it matches the goals
of the monument. Congress directed the Forest Service to protect the
volcanic landscape after Mount St. Helens' deadly 1980 explosion and provide
for public recreation.
Among the private activities the Forest Service suggests may be reasonable:
Helicopter tours taking off from a helipad near the Johnston Ridge
Observatory, the visitor center closest to the volcano's crater, or parking
lots at Coldwater Ridge.
Overnight yurt camps or rustic cabins at places such as Coldwater Ridge, the
Marble Mountain SnoPark or Bear Meadow north of the volcano.
Mobile snack and gift stands that could be set up at scenic overlooks,
picnic areas, trailheads or other popular sites such as Windy Ridge, a major
Winter snowmobile rentals or snowcoach tours on existing roads. Private
snowmobile use is currently allowed in parts of the monument.
Fee parking for recreational vehicles in parking lots at Coldwater Ridge,
Johnston Ridge and other sites.
Conversion of the Forest Service's Pine Creek Work Center near Cougar
Reservoir south of the volcano, now used to house government employees, to a
private RV park, campground or resort.
Visitors often ask for options to spend the night in the monument, Nelson
said. "People say, 'There's no place for me to stay when I go up there,' "
Most national monuments are managed by the National Park Service, with their
own dedicated budgets provided by Congress. Mount St. Helens is one of only
a few monuments overseen by the Forest Service, with a budget that depends
on money trickling down through the agency from Washington, D.C.
Scott Silver of Wild Wilderness, a Bend group opposed to privatization of
public lands, said Congress guaranteed the monument's financial failure by
constructing expensive visitor centers with no mechanism to pay for them
over the long term.
"The next solution is to call in the private sector," he said. The new
prospectus for commercial activities allows almost "any possibility."
"This is a megatransformation," he said. "I just hope people don't allow the
slip to take place without realizing what is changing."
Michael Milstein: 503-294-7689; email@example.com
©2005 The Oregonian
248 NW Wilmington Ave.
Bend, OR 97701
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