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Posted By Toutle Trekker

It the preamble to this Blog, I mentioned all the restrictions that face visitors when accessing the Toutle Valley.  Now, alas, it is time to get specific about those dreaded passes, permits, and fees.

There are three types of passes here-- 

Federal:  When it comes right down to it, the only real place you need any federal pass is at the Johnston Ridge Observatory area.  Unlike the Forest Service's Northwest Forest pass, which is used for vehicles parked at trailheads, at Johnston Ridge, a per-person fee is charged, and each visitor must wear a bright wrist band when visiting the Observatory.  They are only sold at the door.  "Technically" Coldwater Lake also requires a pass, but there is no way to purchase one at the lake, nobody really enforces this, and many times it is impossible to comply because Johnston Ridge is closed.   If you--or a senior citizen traveling with you-- has one of the federal passes (Senior Pass, America the Beautiful, Disabled Vet etc.) a certain number of people can use that for admittance to the Observatory. NW Forest Passes aren't good for anything here, and the trailheads here do not require a pass.  When hiking the Boundary Trail at Johnston Ridge, I always park by the far north trailhead and bypass the Observatory area.  There is a sign saying a pass is required, but when only using the trailhead to reach the backcountry, its more of a suggestion.  The Loowit Viewpoint, South Coldwater Trailhead, and Hummocks Trailhead do not require the wrist pass or the NW Forest Pass.  The bottom line--buy a pass if you want to see the great eruption movie they show at the Observatory, or better yet, bring a grandparent with you, have them use (or buy) their senior lifetime pass, and all watch the movie together.

State:  It is more useful to invest the $30 in a Washington Discover Pass.  The pass has space for two vehicle license plate numbers.  Although you can get the pass online or at stores like Drew's, if you buy one at Seaquest State Park, you save a few dollars in dealer fees.  Discover Passes are for parking and driving on or through state-owned lands.  The St. Helens Wildlife Area on the Toutle mudflow has no public road access, therefore no pass is required for entry.  Locally, a Discover Pass is accepted at Seaquest and Lewis & Clark State Parks, at the Green River Hatchery, the Hall Road birding area, Tower Road and Kerr Road boat launches, and while visiting the Toutle State Forest or other state land.  If you want to visit the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Seaquest you will need to pay an entry fee.  You can just pay the fee and not purchase a Discover Pass if you are only interested in the Visitor Center area. 

If you have purchased a Washington state hunting or fishing license, you were given a different pass--a Vehicle Access Pass--that is only valid on Department of Wildlife (not Department of Natural Resources or State Parks) land.  Yes, it is confusing, and yes, the state has plans to eliminate or simplify the system, but I'm not holding my breath.

Here's more information

Private:  A few years back the largest landowner in the Toutle Valley  (which is also the largest private landowner in the United States) started requiring passes for entering their commercial timberland.   Weyerhaeuser Company, bringing in a practice from the Southeast, limits and controls access to much of Southwest Washington, including over half of Cowlitz County.  Most industrial timberland companies have instituted these passes despite "open space" laws passed by voters that shifts much property tax burden from timberland owners to their neighbors.  These laws were put in place to help preserve open space, and the public benefits those areas provide.  For timberland, one public benefit specifically listed in the law is "recreational spaces".  But since the law has no requirements to provide those pubic benefits for free, the companies are essentially double-dipping--charging for recreational spaces while enjoying the full tax break.  The really sad part is that public land gets locked behind private gates.  There are even several Mount St. Helens National Monument trailheads that are trapped behind Weyerhaeuser gates!   Obviously, I'm not a fan, and I fight this tooth and nail, but to really get into the back woods these passes are the new reality.  Information is on the Weyerhaeuser website, and the cost for a motorized pass for the Longview area has been $300, a walk-in $50, with limited quotas of each.  Sales usually start in the spring.

Free:  County and city-owned parks and lands, like Harry Gardner Park, and city of Castle Rock parks and trails are free.  Most Monument trailheads and trails are free.  Companies like Sierra Pacific, Port Blakely, and Merrill & Ring allow free non-motorized access for hunters and hikers. The "access corridors" through Weyerhaeuser land to public land or along the South Toutle River (see older blogs) are free.  Army Corps of Engineer's land and facilities near the Sediment Dam is free.   

Bottom Line:  If you like to hike, bike, ski, swim or fish, many areas are still free, and you can visit and enjoy the Toutle Valley without spending much (or any) money on passes, permits, and fees.  





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