Mount St. Helens Institute executive director steps down after more than a decade


After 13 years, Amboy-based Mount St. Helens Institute has a new director.

Ray Yurkewycz’s last day was April 30, after serving since 2011 as the executive director of the nonprofit that provides youth education programs, field seminars and guided exploration around the volcano.

Yurkewycz stepped down due to health challenges, according to his farewell message issued by the nonprofit, but the statement does not elaborate on what those challenges are.

“This decision has been very difficult for me to make,” he writes in his farewell statement. “MSHI and the volcano has not just been a job for me — it has been my passion and a significant part of my life and identity.”

The institute’s board named Strategic Projects Director Alyssa Hoyt as acting executive director on May 1, Hoyt said. The institute anticipates having a new permanent director join by the start of 2025.

Yurkewycz announced his departure to the organization two weeks prior to his last day. He started learning about the mountain as a graduate student researching the volcano, according to the statement.

The nonprofit offers hikes near Mount St. Helens’ 1980 blast zone, as well as guided summit climbs and camps for all ages with nearby access to fishing and kayaking at Coldwater Lake. The institute offers a Volcano Outdoor School for youth day or overnight programs.

The nonprofit is also planning a $35 million redesign of the old Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center into a site with planned timber lodges, educational classes and camping trips, as well as an amphitheater and expanded trail system. The center, now called the Science and Learning Center, is located near Coldwater Lake and west of Johnston Ridge; it was built in 1993 and closed to the public in 2007. The Mount St. Helens Institute partnered with the U.S. Forest Service and began offering some youth education programs and public events at the site in 2011.

The U.S. Forest Service in 2022 gave the institute a 30- year permit, offering a window of time to gather funding sources and construct the planned 40-site public campground at the center.