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Eco Park In the News

National Geographic


Mountain Transformed


Beer cans once lay at the bottom of Spirit Lake. Mark Smith remembers them perfectly: 20-year-old Olympia flattops, their shiny gold lettering somehow preserved by the clear, cold water. He remembers ten-inch rainbow trout: planters for the tourists. He remembers a sunken rowboat from the YMCA camp, its bow resting on a submerged stump. A teenager when he began scuba diving in the shadow of Mount St. Helens, he remembers the lake as it was before the May 1980 eruption, before the top 1,300 feet of the volcano—more than three billion cubic yards of mud, ash, and melting snow—avalanched into it. Before the lake became twice as big but half as deep. Before virtually all evidence of life, animal and human—the cabins and roads and camps and cans—were obliterated. Before the lake became a stinky soup, devoid of oxygen and covered with a floating mat of tree trunks ripped from the landscape. What Smith remembers best is what he called the "petrified" forest: a ghostly stand of sunken, branchless firs, buried upright dozens of yards below the surface. The underwater forest was a mystery to him until the mountain exploded. Then it made perfect sense. The trees were evidence of a past eruption—a sign Spirit Lake has always been in the line of fire.


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The Longview Daily News


Volcano claimed lodge, not memories


Owning a lodge at Mount St. Helens was "everyone's dream in an area that was absolutely beautiful," said Mark Smith, whose family owned Spirit Lake Lodge eight years before losing it to the volcano.

"It was an alpine A-frame structure built with oversized logs," he said. "It looked a lot like Timberline Lodge (at Mount Hood), but on a smaller scale."

The lodge was nestled along on the north fork of the Toutle River on 3 1/2 acres. A kitchen, cafe and store were on the first floor, with six guest rooms with shared baths on the second floor. The third floor was dormitory-style, with about 12 bunk beds. The top floor was family quarters and storage.

The lodge could accommodate about 26 guests and was busy year-round, Smith said.

"We had cross-country skiers and snowmobilers in the winter, hunters in the fall and campers in the summer," he said. "At the time, there were no phones, no lights, no electricity."

Smith said before the mountain erupted, there were plans to run electrical power up to the area and there was talk about further development.

"I think we would have had seen ... a few more camp sites, perhaps horse camp trails," he said. "Harry's (Truman) lease with Burlington Northern was up in 1988, so we could have seen a more updated lodge with boating and recreation there."

Smith, who owns Eco Park at milepost 24 on Spirit Lake Memorial Highway, said he likely would have added six cabins to his family's business.


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Interview Excerpts - Mark Smith
The Oregonian


Mark Smith's family lost its famous lodge in the eruption of Mount St. Helens, but his life changed in another way


TOUTLE, Wash. -- Mark Smith stands on a dusty gray place 14 miles downstream from the volcano that stole his family's home, livelihood and past.

As for the buried family photos, he blames himself.

On one morning in May 1980, after the mountain to the north had rumbled for more than 52 days, officials allowed the Smith family and other property owners of the Spirit Lake area access past the roadblocks that had kept them out.

Property owners could sign a waiver and go gather belongings, have a look around and come back out that evening. The Smith family -- Mark joined his brother, Rob; sister, Linda; and father, David -- drove in to check on their business, Spirit Lake Lodge.

"Get the family photos," their worried mother Marian had instructed her boys. But the atmosphere in the shadow of the volcano turned festive as neighbors reconnected. Barbecues came out. A party. Nervous officials quickly scooted everyone out. Mark assumed his brother would grab the photos but didn't.

"We'll just get them tomorrow," Mark said when he realized the lapse.

Tomorrow was May 18, 1980.


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