Date of this Version
Butte, Montana’s Berkeley Pit and its deadly water are a part of the country’s largest Superfund site. In 1994 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Record of Decision designating Butte, along with the neighboring town and mining site of Anaconda (twenty-five miles northwest of Butte), and 120 miles of Montana’s Clark Fork River as a single Superfund complex. The vast mining operations undertaken in the area, including five hundred underground mines and four open pit mines, have resulted in hazardous concentrations of metals in groundwater, surface water, and soils.
Butte’s mines once extracted more tons of copper than any other in the world, and when the Berkeley Pit, the last major mining operation in the city, closed in 1982, Butte lost the cornerstone of its identity. From 1980 through 1983, Silver Bow County, home to Butte and Anaconda, lost 2,700 jobs, most of them in the mining industry. Because of the lack of its industrial growth, Butte turned to Montana’s fastest-growing industry: tourism. Butte has begun to market its mining legacy, and historic preservation—once shunned to allow for expanded mining operations—has become a primary goal of city planning. Industrial heritage tourism (the development and promotion of tourist activities at man-made sites that originated during earlier industrial periods) is the foundation of the city’s tourism agenda and is actively shaping Butte’s post-industrial identity. Butte has rebranded the environmental destruction of its mining industry as a tourist attraction, and the Berkeley Pit is the city’s most profitable and popular destination. In the process, Butte has had to reconcile the Superfund program’s cleanup process with the preservation of historic sites and develop a tourist-friendly image. Since becoming a site of industrial heritage tourism, the cultural meanings and narratives attached to the Berkeley Pit have changed and evolved.
Advisers: Andrew R. Graybill and Margaret D. Jacobs