Montana and Wyoming are in the midst of a nearly quarter-million dollar mediaoffensive to convince the nation that Yellowstone National Park was scarred but not destroyed by last summer's wildfires.
Montana's travel promotion office is working with its counterpart in Wyoming to give tourists a new view of the fires that blackened 562,350 acres of the 2.2 million-acre park."We want to portray the park as a natural area where the giant forces of nature occasionally happen," Steve Shimek, spokesman for the Montana Promotion Division, said Thursday. "Fires are part of the natural process."
The two states are evenly sharing the cost of the $240,000 project aimed at erasing the perception that most of the park, its accommodations and thermal features were damaged by the fires, he said.
News reports repeatedly referred to the fires covering 1 million acres, but only 56 percent of the land inside that area actually burned. Shimek noted. And about a third of the affected area had only "meadow burn" and is expected to be green again this year, he said.
Park officials and state tourism planners have been worried that last summer's daily national news reports of massive damage from the fires will discourage many travelers from putting Yellowstone on their schedule this year.
The fires took their toll on park travelers last year, when the number fell from 2.6 million in 1987 to 2.2 million.
Shimek said officials are counting on the curiosity of those who want to see the park beginning its rebirth to help maintain a healthy number of visitors. The two-state campaign is an effort to reach those who may be dissuaded from visiting, he explained.
Initially, the effort may be paying off.
John Olson, director of marketing and sales for the company that operates lodging in the park, said reservations this year are the same as they were at this time in 1987 - the last normal season for Yellowstone.
"That translates into a comfortable year," he said.