HANFORD — Ten years ago this summer outgoing President Clinton moved to preserve the largely untouched land surrounding much of the Hanford nuclear reservation as a national monument.
Today, as dignitaries gather to mark the 10th anniversary of the Hanford Reach National Monument, not much has changed.
But that was the goal of those who pushed to have it named a monument.
"These lands are among America's treasures, and we owe it to future generations to preserve them," said then-Vice President Al Gore as he stood on the shores of the Columbia River.
Designating the land as a national monument "is a great insurance policy for the region," Randy Settler, Yakama Nation Tribal Council member, said then.
The monument includes the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River outside its tidal area and a remnant of the shrub-steppe land that once covered the region.
Development, grazing, mining and off-road vehicles were barred at the 196,000-acre monument. And Clinton directed that the Columbia River continue to have a sufficient flow of water for monument purposes.
In reality, little has changed at what's now the monument since studies began on its future two decades ago, said Dan Haas, national resource planner for the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes the monument.
Likely there are more out-of-state visitors now that the land is listed as a monument, he said, although Fish and Wildlife doesn't keep track.
"But it's always been a local use area," he said.
The river is the main attraction, with fishing continuing to be the biggest draw. During salmon season boats are thick on the Columbia River from Vernita to the White Bluffs.
Hunting is the second most common use, he said. Parts of the monument are open for hunting deer, upland birds such as pheasants and quail, and waterfowl including ducks, coots and geese.
He has seen an increase in the last decade in float boating -- nonmotorized boating in canoes and kayaks -- with the Vernita to White Bluffs float popular.
Others come to the monument to sightsee. Although only a portion -- 68,000 acres -- is open to the public, it includes two great viewing areas.
From the top of Saddle Mountain, visitors can look north over farmlands and the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge or look south to see the monument.
Rattlesnake Mountain remains closed to the public. But Haas said his favorite viewpoint on the monument remains the White Bluffs overlook, which anyone is free to enjoy.
From the overlook visitors can see a timeline of the Cold War, including central Hanford and the defunct plutonium-production reactors that line the Columbia River, Haas said. They also see the river and the White Bluffs.
That's where Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Robyn Thorson, the regional director of Fish and Wildlife; and Rex Buck, the leader of the Wanapum band, will gather this morning to mark the monument's birthday.
The event is closed to the public because of the lack of parking. But renovations are under way to improve the overlook, including its dirt parking area.
Fish and Wildlife held off making changes to the monument until a management plan was in place in 2008. It calls for mostly modest changes, such as developing trails, interpretive sites and better boat launches in the areas of the Vernita Bridge and Ringold Fish Hatchery. And even those plans have been slowed by lack of money and staff time.
"The change is going to be gradual and measured," Haas said.
However, supporters of the monument are looking forward to an expansion of the area open to the public.
As the Hanford nuclear reservation is cleaned up, the management plan calls for opening 26,000 more acres to the public.
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; email@example.com.