Yellowstone Oil Spill's Effect on Tourism Yet to be Seen


The discovery of a crude oil leak into the Yellowstone River on Saturday prompted a frenzy of action - EPA workers sought to contain the slick, Exxon executives sought to contain the bad press and politicians began the inevitable tournament of fingerprinting - but no one has answered this question: What does this mean for the tourism-dependent local economy?

While the spill did not occur within the confines of the park and is headed downstream the other way, images of oil played on repeat beneath a banner reading "Yellowstone" could prove nearly as toxic to attendance as oil is to a rainbow trout.

Yellowstone National Park is not only one of the U.S.'s biggest parks, it is one of the country's most popular, hosting more than 3,000,000 visitors annually despite being somewhat hard to reach. Summer is the park's busiest season, as tourists make their way to old faithful and watch the animals - buffalo, bears, elk, and moose - wander through the trees and across the grassland.

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer was quick to reaction to the spill precisely because animals lack the good sense to stay within park boundaries.

"You cannot dump [oil] into a pristine trout stream without causing damage to the fisheries," he told CNN.

Local fishing guides say the stretch most profoundly affecting is not prime territory, but the town of Billings is still reliant enough on the river running through it to feel the effects of bad publicity.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is still affecting the tourist economy. The scale may have been bigger, but the takeaway was clear: Vacationers are not looking to join the cleanup.

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