The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 2, 2013

Russia’s meteor city sheds soviet nuclear specter with tourism makeover


One official pitched a “Meteor Disneyland” to recreate the events of Feb. 15, while another pressed for building a “Cosmic Water Park.” A third wanted to transform the look of the city by painting space landscapes on the facades of its drab and ubiquitous Soviet-era buildings.

The most detailed proposals, though, came from Chebarkul Mayor Andrei Orlov, who urged regular and intensive discussions “to keep the tourism idea alive.”

Orlov plans to build a diving center at the lake when the ice melts so tourists can search for meteorites in the 3 meters of mud that lie 11 meters below the surface.

“The first thing we need here are road signs in Russian and English, and cops who can say ‘Hello’ and ‘OK’ to foreigners,” Orlov said. “We don’t want to be like the pyramids near Cairo, where tourists come for an hour, shout, ‘Aladdin, come out,’ and leave.”

One local travel agency, Sputnik, is already organizing summer tours for two Japanese groups of as many as 10 people each, said Elena Kolesnikova, a manager of the company.

“One is a two-day tour to the impact site at Chebarkul, while the other includes city sightseeing and will last longer,” Kolesnikova said. “The price is around $800 per person, which includes the hotel but not plane tickets.”

The Chelyabinsk region, home to billionaire Victor Rashnikov’s Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel, produces more than 7 percent of Russia’s steel and 11 percent of its pipes, according to government data.

Still, disposable incomes for the region’s 3.6 million people are rising at a rate one-fifth of the national average and joblessness, at 6.5 percent of the work force, is worse than the 6 percent for the country as a whole.

The local history museum has already replaced its main attraction with a “Meteor Day” exhibit that includes a kopek- sized meteorite surrounded by the front pages of various newspapers trumpeting the city’s new claim to fame.

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