Southcentral Alaska (with Valdez) is a huge area. It’s hard to say anything good came of the Exxon Valdez disaster. When a huge oil tanker smashed onto rocks in 1989 near its namesake town, the terminus of the Alaska Pipeline, it was one of the worst environmental catastrophes ever. It decimated fish and wildlife for hundreds of miles; collapsed much of the local economy; and forever jaundiced public confidence in oil shipping. And it left several enduring marks on its region for visitors, some of which are ironically beneficial.
The first is simple awareness. Prince William Sound, the vast and geographically complex body of water that is the centerpiece of South Central Alaska, gained public visibility across the world. And oil spill settlement funds helped boost local communities with new roads, marinas and such; that included paying for one of the finest small aquariums in North America, the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward (see the Kenai Peninsula section).
You cannot visit the oil terminals today in Valdez Alaska: Security experts fear terrorists could accomplish what Exxon managed on its own years ago. But it’s just a surreal geographic circumstance that this area has “oil” linked to its identity at all. South-central is among the most stunning landscapes in the world, a region where—for a few years yet, anyhow—you can still see glaciers spill down to the sea, watch whales frolic in emerald waters, catch salmon rushing to wild rivers to spawn, and hike, bike, paddle and sightsee almost infinitely.
Valdez Alaska, the oil terminal town, is a gateway to sensational sightseeing, fishing and trekking. And Cordova, reached only by plane or ferry, is a fishing village that’s the home of America’s best-known wild food, Copper River Salmon.
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