Much has changed over the course of the past three-plus decades in and around the mountain. One constant, however, has been business owner Mark Smith, a man who has spent most of his adult life connected in one way or another to the volcano.
“I’m the youngest member of the Smith family that owned and operated Spirit Lake Lodge on Mount St. Helens that was lost in the historic event. My last trip to the lodge was on May 17th (1980). I was 20 years old at the time and I remember the area quite well – the camping, the facilities and the recreation we had back then,” he said.
After being displaced by the eruption and subsequent restructuring of the mountain, Smith returned to Mount St. Helens in 1992, starting a small tour company offering trips into the blast zone.
“We were the first tour company to take people back into the heart of the blast zone for the experience of not only day trips, but overnight adventures with our ‘Tent & Breakfast,’” recalled Smith.
Behind a dream for something greater, Smith founded his current business, Eco Park Resort, in 1996. Situated on 90 acres approximately 24 miles east of the I-5 Castle Rock exit, the resort features a café, six log cabins, two Yurts, several RV sites and a multitude of tent sites. Activities offered include: horseback riding; wildlife viewing; fishing; mountain biking; hiking; and even helicopter tours.
“It’s great if you want to get away to a real campground,” said Smith. “If you’re not looking [to be around] cell phones or electronics, this is the place.”
Since the eruption of Mount St. Helens, a number of recreational businesses have come and gone in the area. Smith said Eco Park Lodge has been able to adapt and maintain its presence over time by marketing the lodge as the key attraction, instead of the mountain.
“Normally, when you put a business by something like Mount St. Helens you’d think, ‘Well, that’s my draw,’” Smith explained. “Well, it’s not. It’s you and your business that is the draw. And oh, by the way, Mount St. Helens is just up the road. That’s what we’ve had to learn.
“I would urge anybody who is in business today near an attraction like that – don’t rely on the attraction. Rely on your own business talent and success,” he added.
Eco Park gets roughly 40 percent of its visitors from the Portland-Vancouver market, according to Smith. Another 25 percent travel from the Seattle area and 33 percent is international business.
“Portland-Vancouver folks like to stay within about a two hour distance of home,” said Smith. “They tend to really like going to a place they can see, and they can look out their window and see Mount St. Helens.
“In the Gorge, Mount St. Helens is one of the most beautiful attractions and yet one of the most underutilized. And I think people are really reaching out to go see it and experience it.”
For more information, visit Eco Park Lodge’s website.