Washington State Parks Offers Virtual Tours During Mount St. Helens Visitor Center Closure | Local

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CASTLE ROCK – An entire grade level in the Castle Rock School District typically visits the Mount St. Helens area. Castle Rock superintendent Ryan Greene said the students had not been there in recent years.

With the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center closed since the start of the pandemic, the state is now offering excursions to students. Washington State Park Ranger Alysa Adams said what students can’t see in person can still be learned online through recorded videos and live virtual chats with rangers. foresters like her.

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh story in our ongoing series marking the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 198…

“Let’s do a virtual field trip,” she says. “We’re still here, but not in the capacity you remember. “

Course

The visitor center closed at the start of the pandemic and is still not open due to construction and renovations, according to Washington State Parks.

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To make up for the loss of in-person learning, park workers offer 26 videotaped lessons led by park rangers across the state on topics such as geology, marine life, and animal adaptations in winter.

Adams hosts this latest video, as well as a three-part series on the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption, which includes sample questions and class assignments. She also hosts what she called a “ranger conference” on the rash suitable for older students or adults who miss the in-person lectures she hosted about four times a day before COVID-19.

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This year, COVID-19 restrictions have moved Squatch Fest to summer, but will return to winter in 2022. The festival takes place Friday and Saturday, just as local businesses need another boost after more than a year of declining sales due to the pandemic.

COVID-related changes

Adams said the pre-pandemic visitor center conferences would each attract around 60 attendees who would ask questions and mingle at the site. The center was open every day most of the year before it closed, according to Washington State Parks. With the closure of the facility, Adams had to reinvent the way she communicated with the public.

“The big first step was to go virtual,” she said.






Ranger Adams

Washington State Parks Ranger Alysa Adams smiles Nov. 9 as she discusses the types of trees and animals that live at Seaquest State Park in Castle Rock.


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In addition to video conferencing and live online chats, Adams began offering what she called “camping chats”. Instead of hosting large 25-minute in-person gatherings in the open-air amphitheater at Seaquest State Park, Adams hosted 15-minute one-on-one interviews with campers in 2020 and 2021 near their tents or campsites. cars.

Adams said she took props like black bear skulls or pictures of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption to individual campsites to teach families about the wildlife, geology and history of the area. region as their own “personal ranger”. Other times, she drew inspiration from the natural setting, such as suggesting that children search for banana slugs while learning about decomposers that process plant material like leaves.

“We got cunning and used what was around us,” she said.

Mount St. Helens audio tour launched by the Cowlitz County Historical Museum

The Audio Tour is a seven-track CD or digital download that allows drivers to start on State Route 504 at Castle Rock and ride up to Johnston Ridge, listening to a tale of the history of the area.

Less staff, more visitors

In 2020, Adams said he gave 117 camping talks to 750 people. The following year Adams said she and another ranger were able to increase that number to 240 talks with 1,710 people.

Just before the pandemic hit, Adams said she was offering seasonal positions to people she couldn’t get on this summer due to funding shortages caused by COVID-19.

But the visitors came anyway. She said campsites were often booked every day during the pandemic, when historically visitors could almost always find places without reservations during the week.

In 2022, the state hopes to open the reception center, Adams said, but could not give an exact date.


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