Berkeley Pit.

Pay to See Toxic Waste

For years we've been praising the tourism virtues of the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana, which at one time was America's Largest Truck-Operated Open Pit Copper Mine, and now is a 500-acre lake of deadly drainage. In June 2006, an "Interpretive Pavilion" opened on the site of the old Berkeley Pit Viewing Stand, with picnic tables, a snack bar, and restrooms (replacing the old porta-potties.) Luxury comes at a price, however, as the city charges two dollars to come in and take a peek.

Two bucks may seem like too much to look at toxic waste. But a one dollar admission trial showed that people were willing to pay, and why not? Never underestimate the drawing power of a big hole in the ground, especially one filled with a deadly soup of arsenic, cobalt, and cadmium (the water is so full of heavy metals that it's actually mined) set in the middle of a moonscape.

The Berkeley Pit not only looks like a post-Apocalyptic Superfund site, it comes with its own appropriately eerie lore. For 17 years this wasteland was the home of the mysterious, solitary Auditor the Dog, now dead but memorialized in life-size bronze at the Butte Plaza Mall. The water in the Pit is so toxic that in 1995 it killed over 300 snow geese that mistakenly landed on it. Earthquakes occasionally rumble across the area (a 5.6 struck last summer), but the official "PitWatch" web site emphatically reassures visitors that "the water will NOT be allowed to rise unchecked." This is good, as the Pit is 1,800 feet deep, a mile across, holds over 40 billion gallons of toxic waste, and if that ever broke free, oh, my, it would make a mess.

Would you pay two dollars for a chance to see that? The city of Butte bets that you would!


Berkeley Pit Viewing Stand

200 Shields Ave., Butte, MT
Berkeley Pit Viewing Stand. Northeast edge of the city. I-90/15 exit 126. Drive north through town on Montana St., turn right onto Park St., and drive a mile east. On the left.
Daily Mar-Nov 9-5, or by appt. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $2.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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