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Thursday, May 19, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Five Tourist Centers Planned For Mount St. Helens By 1996

AP

CASTLE ROCK, Cowlitz County - Fourteen years after Mount St. Helens erupted, the volcano draws ever more tourists.

By 1996, five visitor centers will be open on the mountain. The Forest Service will have three, Cowlitz County one and the Weyerhaeuser Co. one.

Each will have a different story to tell, said Jim Fletcher, assistant parks director for Cowlitz County.

"We're not trying to capture everyone at all five stops," Fletcher said. "We're offering variety because a lot of business is repeat traffic. Each trip can be unique."

Mount St. Helens erupted May 18, 1980, with a blast of rock, hot gas and steam that killed 57 people, stripped enough timber to build half a million homes and sent up an ash cloud that circled the globe.

Construction on the 16,000-square-foot Johnston Ridge Observatory will start this summer, with opening set for late summer 1996.

The ridge, due north of Mount St. Helens, took the full blast of the volcano's fury. Before he died, David Johnston, the young U.S. Geological Survey geologist on volcano watch atop the ridge that Sunday morning, had time only for an urgent radio transmission: "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!"

The observatory will cap a 13-year, $112 million Forest Service program to build trails, roads and visitor facilities in the area.

At the observatory, planners are trying to recreate the events of May 18 and show how the lessons learned at Mount St. Helens have been used at other volcanoes.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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