By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Yellow ribbons and handmade “Thank You” signs hint at what’s ahead. They don’t begin to prepare travelers for passage through the part of Highway 530 surrounded by devastation.
It’s an essential link between Arlington and Darrington. It’s an active work zone. And it is so much more. It will forever be a solemn place.
Drivers passing through may feel compelled to bow their heads. Forty-three people died in the March 22 mudslide, when a mountain gave way along the North Fork Stillaguamish River. One victim, Molly Kristine “Kris” Regelbrugge, has not been found.
Pulling over or taking eyes off the road isn’t possible in the 25-mile-an-hour no-stopping zone. On Friday, the slide area was busy with work crews, commuters, log trucks and cars carrying bicycles.
“Approach it with reverence, humility and deep respect,” said Tim Serban, who spent a week at Oso just after the slide as a volunteer coordinator for the American Red Cross Spiritual Care Disaster Response Team. “It bears the scar of a community’s loss, of families’ pain,” he said.
The road opened to two-way traffic May 31. Visitors should remember “this is a sacred place of loss, and of memory,” Serban said. “It’s where people died. It’s where loved ones last lived.”
Serban is chief mission integration officer for Providence Health &Services, Oregon Region. He was formerly director of mission integration and spiritual care at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.
His description of the slide zone is being echoed by Snohomish County. A photo of Highway 530 labeled “SR 530 Remember, This Site Is Sacred” will appear on a Facebook page that is part of the county’s Visit Stilly Valley campaign.
Wendy Becker, the county’s cultural and economic development manager, said the campaign to promote tourism in Arlington, Oso and Darrington is part of an economic recovery effort for the region. The county received a $150,000 grant from the state Department of Commerce for the tourism push.
Becker said it’s important to show sensitivity to grief, even while encouraging the tourism dollars needed to help the area recover. “Some folks have very strong feelings that people shouldn’t be driving there at all. But people really do want to go and offer their pocketbooks to help,” she said.
Travis Phelps, a state Department of Transportation spokesman, said there are signs telling Highway 530 drivers the speed limit and warning that they can’t stop in the slide area. “People understand that this is not a tourist attraction. Be respectful,” he said.
Respect begins with following the law. Drive through, don’t walk on the site, and take nothing from it.
“Saying a quiet prayer is appropriate,” Becker said.
It’s not a tourist attraction, but Snohomish County is in very early planning stages for a memorial along Highway 530.
“Families are really driving this process,” said Russ Bosanko, Snohomish County Parks &Recreation division manager of park operations and community partnership. He said that Tom Teigen, the county’s parks director, has talked with several families who lost loved ones to find out what they want to see as a memorial. Teigen, he said, hopes to hear from other families as planning moves forward.
That memorial commemorates 40 crew members and passengers of an airliner hijacked Sept. 11, 2001, the day other planes destroyed the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon. United Airlines Flight 93 passengers thwarted the terrorists’ goal of hitting a target in Washington, D.C. when they crashed the plane into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
It wasn’t until a decade after the attacks that the Flight 93 National Memorial was dedicated. Although managed by the parks service, its website makes clear that the memorial is a place for quiet reflection. The crash site itself is accessible only to victims’ families.
Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, killing 57 people. Yet the original visitors center near what is now Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument didn’t open until 1993.
Bosanko said planning for an Oso slide memorial could take years. Normally, public meetings are involved in park development. “With this, it will definitely be driven by the families, what they want to see,” he said.
Snohomish County has property in the slide zone, an access point for the Whitehorse Trail. That could be used for an Oso memorial, Bosanko said.
At a community meeting in Oso late last month, some survivors of the mudslide said they won’t be ready to talk about a memorial until Regelbrugge is found.
“A great tragedy happened,” Serban said. “I’m hoping people don’t just come and look. I hope they come with a sense of bringing the love and care of the American people to a place of great loss, courage and resilience of a community.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
People who lost family members in the Oso mudslide and who want to participate in planning a memorial at the site are encouraged to call Snohomish County Parks &Recreation Director Tom Teigen at 425-388-6617 or email: email@example.com