The Two Tar Creeks

If you do a google images search for TAR CREEK you will get a whole host of images. There’s a lot of orange water:

some chat piles, old mining pictures, maps, BIA signs, posters from the movie, the DVD cover, the Picher Gorilla:

and then another longer list of ancillary items like the the LEAD Agency emblem, Oklahoma Governor signing something with children around him, the poster from Laborfest, John D Sutter, Earl Hatley driving a boat, and of course, my mom’s Facebook pic. She is a fan after all.

If you’re looking for Tar Creek Superfund site stuff, that Tar Creek orange is hard to miss:

Blech. But if you remove your Superfund site filter, your Ottawa county filter, your worst environmental disaster in the country filter, you start to see some good looking photos pop up here and there. Pretty even. I mean, what is THIS?


Or what about THIS?

How are pictures like this coming up in an image search for Tar Creek? It makes little sense. We should be seeing sinkholes, and mountain ranges of lead tailings, and water the color no water should be. Yet here are these shots of Shangri-La mixed in with the Most Toxic Place in America.

I do some digging and discover that these pictures are from a local day hike called “Tar Creek Falls” which is just outside of Ventura, California (home of Patagonia and my good friends Bruce & Hilary). A stout 1,556 mile road trip between the two places or “one day and one hour”, says the map. Halfway across the country from each other and clearly world’s apart.

Neither word “tar” nor “creek” is particularly unique. Even the words together aren’t unusual. I guess it should have been no surprise that there was another Tar Creek, but I had just figured that it was the only one.

Yet the two Tar Creeks brings up an interesting issue. On the one hand, you have the worst environmental disaster in the country. On the other, an idyllic spot a few miles from Surf Town, USA. With Oklahoma’s version, the federal government bought citizens houses and moved them out so that no one could ever live here. California’s version is protected by the government in the form of Los Padres National Forest. Everyone is trying to avoid Tar Creek, Oklahoma. People actually hike 5 miles in the mountains to get to Tar Creek, California.

And this is kind of the heart of this issue here. With the Tar Creek Superfund Site, we are trying to help make this place better, make the people safe and healthy, and provide a good life for those who are struggling to leave. We’d love it if it were a federally protected sweet spot tucked in some canyon where kids go to base jump into emerald pools below, but I think we’d settle for being just good enough to get off the Superfund list, just good enough to raise a healthy family, or just good enough that it’s usable again.

–Matt Myers