Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Report from the west Part 3. Wallace, Idaho

We made our way south to pick up I-90 just east of the Montana – Idaho border. For dinner we stopped in Wallace, Idaho and found a very nice dinner and a town that’s capitalized on its history as a mining town ( Wallace also figured prominently in the Big Burn of 1910, a fire that covered 3 million acres of forest in Idaho and Montana.

I have to admit that we stopped because our GPS receiver showed a cluster of local-sounding restaurants in Wallace and we were specifically looking for a local restaurant. Those GPS things do come in handy sometimes.
Wallace seems to be working, as shown by a critical mass of restaurants and shops, a nice visitor’s center and other interpretive features and, when we were there anyway, a steady stream of customers.

Wallace has the advantage of being situated a) near ski resorts on the east and west sides (which brings well-heeled tourists through), b) situated in a narrow mountain valley right on I-90 (which makes it very visible) and c) an economy that benefits from a still-active mining industry.

The latter point has its drawbacks, though. Just east of Wallace is a sign on the river warning people not to come in contact with the stream due to the legacy of mining discharges into the stream. According to a sign posted on a business in Wallace, EPA has a plan to remediate the legacy pollution but some locals are opposed to the plan due to its potential impacts on the mining industry. The present mining activities are not adding pollution to the river, according to a flier I read in the restaurant. The flier stated that the mining activity is now environmentally sound (maybe the ore doesn’t contain sulfur and, reading between the lines, the environmental sound-ness may be due to the fact that the ore is shipped off for processing elsewhere).

Wallace seems to have succeeded in mixing extractive industry and tourist industry (and in a more sensible way than trying to make the Berkely Pit in Butte MT sound like a tourist attraction).

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