As clean-up crews spread to Alabama and Florida to fight oil washing ashore from the BP oil leak in the Gulf and meteorologists eye potential eye Hurricane Alex with concern it could disburse the oil along the Gulf Coast, some Louisiana officials are fighting another kind of battle—the battle to change perceptions.
“We’re trying to counter the perception that the entire coast of Louisiana is under two feet of oil,” said Violet Peters, president and CEO of the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Peters wants to get the “positive message out there that we do have something for visitors to enjoy even today while we’re still going through the midst of this horrible disaster.”
BP Oil Washing Ashore
The disaster, of course, is the oil that has been washing ashore at Grand Isle, Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island, following the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon 42 miles off the southern coast. President Obama visited Grand Isle in early June and demanded that BP plug the oil leak, a demand that still hasn’t been met.
Eleven workers died in the blast that lead to the biggest offshore spill in U. S. history. Louisiana, the state closest to the site, continues to be impacted by the spewing oil leak but oil has also washed ashore on Mississippi, Alabama and Florida beaches.
The seven-mile-long Grand Isle has a population of just 1,500 residents most of the year but it sees more than 300,000 visitors each summer as fishermen flock to the area’s waterways and tourists head to its beaches.
Visitors Avoiding Grand Isle
With many fishing areas closed, the perception that the oil is covering Grand Isle is keeping visitors away in droves.
“The lower part of Jefferson Parish (where Grand Isle is located) has definitely seen some cancellations and a decrease in inquiries from potential visitors,” Peters said.
That spells bad news for the island’s business owners who make the bulk of their profit between Memorial Day and Labor Day, she said.
“People think everything’s covered in oil and everything’s closed. I would really encourage people to help out the area by coming and visiting and doing those things that are still open,” she added.
A vacation without the beach
“There’s campgrounds that are open, there’s a beautiful observation deck in Grand Isle State Park, Grand Isle has a butterfly dome (the Grand Isle Butterfly Conservancy) and, of course, our restaurants and so forth are open,” she said.
“So there’s a vacation to be had. It would just be different from what all of the traditional amenities would be.”
Josie Cheramie, tourist commissioner for Grand Isle, said people should still consider visiting Grand Isle although with the cleanup workers filling the hotels and fishing camp rentals, finding accommodations can be a challenge.
“I encourage people to come down,” she said. “I think it is history in the making. Unfortunately, we’re living through it.”
If You Go to Grand Isle
For help in finding accommodations, go to www.grand-isle.com or call Josie Cheramie, Grand Isle tourist commissioner, 985-787-2997.
For information on Grand Isle State Park, go to www.crt.state.la.us/parks/igrdisle.
For information on Jefferson Parish, go to www.experiencejefferson.com or call 504-731-7083 or 877-572-7474. Other attractions in Jefferson Parish include Bayou Segnette State Park with a variety of outdoor activities and the Barataria Preserve of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve where visitors can experience the unique ecosystem of the area, Violet Peters, president and CEO of the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau, said.
Kathie Immormino Sutin is a freelance writer based in St. Louis, Mo . She writes about travel, health, food, business, construction and people.