Thursday, February 11, 2021

Transforming the Centralia Coal Mine - A Golden Opportunity for Wildlife and Recreation

Past Washington’s only coal fired power plant, now in its final few years, lies a vast landscape of lush prairie, rolling hills, and glittering lakes - a former coal mine now healing and gradually transforming into a unique wild refuge. Under a WDFW proposal, the reclaimed Centralia coal mine would become one of Washington’s newest and largest wildlife areas. Such a protected area would offer great potential both for conservation of endangered species, and for building a strong outdoor recreation economy in the region.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation is responsible for creating 131,000 jobs and $2.3 billion dollars in annual state and local tax revenue in Washington. However, due to a lack of easily accessible public land, many cities and rural communities are largely unable to benefit from this massive economic force. In Lewis County most accessible public lands are hours away from people's homes and businesses. As a result, people travel through communities rather than stopping and spending money. 

Furthermore, without easy access to attractive natural areas for outdoor recreation, communities fail to take advantage of the value such areas represent in attracting new businesses. You could think of it in terms of real estate - homes in neighborhoods with beautiful gardens sell for far more than neighborhoods that have fallen into disrepair. The Centralia Coal Mine could be Centralia’s beautiful garden that helps draw new businesses to the area.

The WDFW is still in the early process of building a plan for habitat and recreation in the area. They envision opening up the entire landscape to the public eventually with perhaps a few small exceptions. Their current vision includes a few designated and developed access points with a few of the roads remaining open to reach some of the larger lakes for activities such as canoeing or fishing. Most of the roads that crisscross the area would be turned into non-motorized trails.

It is important to note that there is much work still to be done. The reclamation process is still ongoing, and portions of the area are a few years away from being accessible and attractive. However, as with the once barren Mt. St. Helens blast zone, life and beauty are quickly recolonizing the landscape of the former mine. There is opportunity here for endangered and threatened species such as the Western Pond Turtle, Oregon Spotted Frog, and Streaked Horned Lark to make a strong comeback. 

For most people it is probably hard to imagine an old coal mining having any scenic value, but look closely at Google Earth imagery and photos provided by the WDFW and you will glimpse a tantalizing future for outdoor recreation in the region. Acquiring and preserving Centralia Mine is a truly golden opportunity for wildlife and the regional economy alike.

The WDFW is seeking public comment on this and other 2021 land acquisition proposals until 2/16/2021 (updated).

To submit comments, you can email them to or mail them to: Real Estate Services, PO Box 43158, Olympia, WA 98504.

For more information you can visit the WDFW land acquisition page: