Within 48 hours of the Gold King Mine spill, media from across the nation and around the world began converging on Durango to report about a river that turned orange.
Michael Davis, an Environmental Protection Agency spokesman, said that while they don't keep a log, the Joint Command Incident Center has responded to requests for information from hundreds of media outlets, perhaps as many as 1,000.
"There's been so much attention, it's been so dramatic," said one attendee at Thursday night's community meeting. "People are acting like this is a Love Canal or Gulf (Coast) oil spill, and I don't think we're anywhere near that."
The story ran on television and radio around the world and was picked up by major print outlets such as Time, Newsweek and The New York Times, as well as several Internet news organizations.
Durango Herald photo editor Jerry McBride's shot of three kayakers on orange water went viral. Perhaps the real test that the Animas River spill had entered the national consciousness was its appearance on Conan O'Brien's show on TBS in a fake ad for "The Colorado Natural Disaster Ultimate River Rapids Extreme Kayaking Adrenaladventure Tours."
Several locals spent countless hours speaking to the press. Dan Olson, executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, was on speed dial for numerous reporters. He'd lost count of the number of print and broadcast outlets he's spoken to in the last 2½ weeks.
Buck Skillen, the president of the Five Rivers Chapter of Trout Unlimited, found himself wearing two hats when speaking to the media.
"I try to make sure people realize Durango's still open for business," he said. "But I fly-fish in the Animas, although it's always catch-and-release. And the reality is that we live in an urban area, with brake dust and petroleum from the roads naturally washing into the Animas every time it rains. So the reason we don't eat the fish isn't really a function of this spill, it's a function of the ongoing mining drainage and the fact that we live in an urban area."
Why did they come?
But why did so many media outlets respond to an environmental crisis in an isolated area on a river most of them had never heard of - or could pronounce - that affected a relatively small number of people?
There are several reasons, said Michael Kodas, associate director for the Center for Environmental Journalism in the College of Media, Communication and Information at the University of Colorado.
"Of course, most simply, the color made for such a dramatic image," he said.
It was amplified, Kodas said, because the spill was triggered by the EPA, which is supposed to protect our environment.
"Even more importantly, the fact that the EPA has become such a political football in the last couple of years has allowed several presidential candidates not generally renowned for their environmental leanings to attack the EPA as environmental protectors," he said.