After a years-long county effort to sell the Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center, the building is now under ownership of a church group that soon hopes to host a summer youth camp.
The county built the center for $3.2 million in the 1996, hoping to guide and encourage visitors to visit Mount St. Helens. Sales of the center, an alpine-style building with large interior wood beams, leaves the upper Toutle Valley without a restaurant, gift shop or other services.
All three Cowlitz County commissioners Tuesday morning approved the $1 million sale, which was signed Oct. 24. The sale closed at the end of the year, transferring the building over to the ownership of Andrey and Nadya Ivantsov from the Tacoma-based Slavic Christian Center.
Commissioner Dennis Weber said the county was facing substantial costs if it had kept the center, located at 15000 Silver Lake Memorial Highway east of Toutle. It needs improvements to the HVAC system, plumbing, roof and deck, Weber said.
“We were facing some extraordinary maintenance repairs,” Weber said. “It’s not a moneymaker for us.”
Instead the revenue will be used for the county’s underfunded capital improvement plan for projects such as a new county morgue or 911 center.
Andrey Ivantsov said he was searching for an outdoor location. The owners plan to host a summer camp for 160 to 170 children and construct a new building near the existing one for more space.
“I fell in love,” Ivantsov said, as soon as he saw the Hoffstadt Bluffs facility, which has a broad view of the upper Toutle Valley and the volcano itself. “Nice place, nice view. Everything is natural there.”
The agreement stipulates that the one-acre Memorial Grove of trees, which were planted in honor of the 57 people who died in the eruption of May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens, will remain intact. The public will still be allowed to access the grove during business hours and on the eruption’s anniversary.
Weber said a display of David Crockett’s KOMO News vehicle — trapped in ash during the eruption — will be moved and hopes the state will allow the vehicle to be at the Silver Lake Visitor center, which the state owns.
The visitor center’s closure limits the tourism activities surrounding the Toutle Valley. The Johnston Ridge Observatory and Weyerhaeuser Forest Learning Center are open only seasonally. The Science and Learning Center at Coldwater Ridge is open November through mid-April.
Greg Drew, who owns Drew’s Grocery & Service Gas Station on Silver Lake Memorial Highway, said while he doesn’t have an opinion on the sale itself, he drew business from Hoffstadt Bluffs operating as a public venue and is concerned about the future of tourism on Spirit Lake Memorial Highway.
“Tourism to the mountain in the last few years has dropped a lot,” Drew said. “I know it had to be sold. ... I guess what concerns me I think is that 504 (Highway) doesn’t continue to lose its appeal as a tourist destination. You have to have things for people to go, to see and to do if you want to attract them here.”
Weber, however, said having youth there at the summer camp could boost the local economy and increase tourism. He said he also hopes the owners could make the building available to rent or lease in the off-season.
“It still remains a beautiful site,” Weber said. “Our motivation was more just a cost-benefit plan. ... We knew we had these costs in order to keep that facility going that was more than what the facility would bring in next year.”
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the time the Science and Learning Center at Coldwater is open.