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News: Mount St. Helens reopens to climbers

Mount St. Helens reopened to climbers on July 21 for the first time since the mountain began quietly erupting in 2004. Plus: more travel news.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Mount St. Helens reopened to climbers on July 21 for the first time since the mountain began quietly erupting in 2004.

Dust, steam and blue-tinted sulfurous gas still rise from the horseshoe-shaped crater left by St. Helens' 1980 eruption, which killed 57 people and blasted more than 1,300 feet off the peak. Near the crater's center, the volcano is rebuilding itself, churning out a cubic yard of rock per second - a rate that could see the volcano return to its pre-1980 size in 100 years.

When the mountain was reopened to climbers last time, in 1987, the five-hour ascent became extremely popular, attracting about 12,000 people a year. But in September 2004, the volcano reawakened, and the U.S. Forest Service closed trails around it.

Since then, the volcano has settled into a pattern of constantly extruding lava with a low gas content, said Tom Pierson of the U.S. Geological Survey. Officials say there's not enough gas to make climbing dangerous.

The Forest Service cautions those who want to try the climb, however. In addition to basic backcountry necessities such as a compass, map and plenty of water, the service recommends that climbers bring an ice ax, sunglasses that seal around the eyes to keep dust out, a dust mask and a climbing helmet, just in case the volcano sends rocks soaring above the rim.

The entire south side of the mountain is being reopened to climbers, as are trails through the blast zone on the north side. The crater itself remains off-limits.

Permits are required to hike above tree line and cost $22 each. The Forest Service will issue up to 100 permits a day, and reservations can be made on the Internet through the Mount St. Helens Institute,

The most popular climbing route begins on the south side at Climber's Bivouac, elevation 3,800 feet. An easy trail through firs and huckleberries on an ancient lava flow leads to tree line at Monitor Ridge, at 4,800 feet.

Cricket in the Caribbean
The World Cup soccer tournament in Germany is over, but sports fans from around the world are already making plans for their next big trip - the World Cup cricket tournament, to be held next spring in the Caribbean.

The March 11-April 28 event is expected to attract 100,000 visitors to see 16 teams play matches in Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Antigua, Grenada, Trinidad, St. Vincent and Guyana.

It's the first time the event is being held in the Caribbean, and several of the nine countries hosting matches are scrambling to finish renovations or construction of new stadiums, while also trying to find innovative ways to house the fans.

Some countries have considered offering accommodations on cruise ships. Guyana has asked citizens to convert their homes to bed-and-breakfast accommodation - for which they are training people. Elsewhere in Guyana, new hotels are under construction, while existing hotels are refurbishing or adding extensions.

Even the Guyana Boy Scouts Association is trying to help out, by preparing the grounds at its headquarters in Georgetown for camping by a few hundred backpacking fans from England, New Zealand and Australia.

Among the venues building new facilities is Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, considered the Caribbean's most historic cricket ground.

The 124-year-old stadium there was demolished a year ago and a new one is being built to increase seating capacity from 16,000 to 28,000. Its redevelopers say it will be ready by January, ahead of schedule. Kensington Oval will host second-round matches in the World Cup, and the April 28 final.

Virgin Islands resort plan controversial
A documentary commissioned by the British Virgin Islands Conservation and Fisheries Department is critical of a luxury resort and marina project that the government calls vital to the territory's tourism economy.

In the documentary, biologists and conservation officials say pollution and habitat destruction by the proposed Beef Island Golf & Country Club Resort would damage important marine breeding grounds off an island famed for pristine reefs and mangrove forests.

"We are talking about areas that for over 20 years have been identified as areas that need to be protected," said Bertrand Lettsome, Chief Conservation and Fisheries Officer for the British territory, in the 30-minute documentary obtained by The Associated Press.

Lettsome said his agency commissioned the documentary for educational purposes, but declined to discuss the production until its release, scheduled for August.

The resort, which will reportedly cost more than $80 million to develop, has prompted strong opposition - a public hearing this month on the issue drew some 300 people, far more than for any other recent issue. The documentary underscores the divisions over the project, even among government officials in the British Caribbean territory.

British Virgin Islands Chief Minister Orlando Smith, the government leader in the territory, signed an agreement approving the project in 2005 although the developer, Quorum Island Ltd., must still secure permits to begin construction in the fall.

Smith has said that the territory needs the resort, including an 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, to compete with other Caribbean destinations for high-end tourists. His administration, however, insists it can be built in an environmentally sensitive way.

"There must be a balance between the environment and development," spokeswoman Sandra Ward said.

The resort would transform what is still a largely uninhabited spit of land. Developers hope to build 200 hotel rooms, rental villas and the golf course on more than 650 acres by 2009.

Paris opens annual beach on the Seine
Parisians adjusted to Tahiti time on Thursday for the opening of the Paris Beaches -- a city-sponsored initiative that turns Seine's riverbanks into a tropical getaway.

With the landlocked capital gripped by a heat wave, tourists and vacation-less Parisians flocked to the artificial beaches throughout the day. They relaxed on deck chairs and received free shiatsu massages, courtesy of the project's sponsors.

Now in its fifth year, the monthlong event expands this summer to include a new beach on the Left Bank. The half-mile stretch of white sand offsets surrounding architecture: the futuristic Simone de Beauvoir bridge and ultra-modern Francois Mitterand Library.

"It's fun because it's in the middle of the city," said Sarah, a 20-year-old Australian student. "We came to the city and it just happens that it's on. It's lively."

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe inaugurated the first Paris Plages in in 2002. Skeptics called it silly and contrary to the Paris aesthetic, but visitors embraced it.

Last year, 3.8 million people came, and the idea has inspired other European capitals, including Berlin, Rome, Amsterdam and Budapest, to open similar sand-in-the-city installations. Other towns around France, too, have followed the capital's lead.

Another new attraction in Paris this year is a new sports complex floating on the Left Bank that houses a lap pool with a retractable roof.

The complex, named after jazz era icon Josephine Baker, is the 21st-century version of another floating Paris pool, which sank into the Seine in 1993 after more than two centuries of service.

U.S., Canada: Marriott goes smokeless
Hotel operator Marriott International Inc. said Wednesday that all of its hotels in the United States and Canada will be smoke-free starting in September.

The move follows an industry trend, said analyst William Crow of Raymond James & Associates. The Westin Hotel chain made its rooms smoke-free in February, followed in March by Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif. Other hotels have been steadily reducing their inventory of smoking rooms in recent years.

"It's probably a precursor of what's to come," said Crow. "Given where we are as a country, the no-smoking laws that have been put in place, we'll probably see other chains jump on board."

Marriott said its move is the largest in the industry, with more than 2,300 hotels and corporate apartments and nearly 400,000 guest rooms under the Marriott, JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance, Courtyard, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, Fairfield Inn, TownePlace Suites and Marriott ExecuStay brands involved.

The policy means that smoking will not be allowed in any guest rooms, restaurants, lounges, meeting rooms, public space or employee work areas. The company said that currently, more than 90 percent of Marriott guest rooms are already nonsmoking, and smoking is prohibited in many public spaces due to local laws.

When Westin announced its decision to become smoke free, it said an average of 92 percent of its customers had been requesting nonsmoking rooms. The changeover cost the chain about $200 a room, mostly in costs associated with deep cleaning and treating hard surfaces, walls and carpets to eliminate allergens; replacing air filters, and cleaning air conditioning units.

Crow noted that smoke-free hotels recover such costs through reduced maintenance expenses and that eliminating the nonsmoking option makes it easier to track the inventory of rooms.