When the digging’s done: What happens to mineland?

From top: Glen, Godfrey and other mines as seen from the Minnesota Discovery Center trolley; the Mesabi Trail by Jim Brandenburg; overlook at the Gilbert OHV Park; Hibbing Taconite

From top: Glen, Godfrey and other mines as seen from the Minnesota Discovery Center trolley; the Mesabi Trail by Jim Brandenburg; overlook at the Gilbert OHV Park; Hibbing Taconite

Mining has been happening in northern Minnesota for over 100 years but what’s most surprising about the Iron Range, at least to a nonnative, is the extent of mine reclamation that’s taken place. It’s not a wasteland.

Reclamation: reforesting, wetland re-creation, mine pits filling with groundwater, these things are happening all the time. Either managed by the mining companies and regulators  (dewatering an area for mining and moving the water into an existing wetland, watershed or pit for example), or by Mineland Reclamation – a division of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board – or by nature’s hand, change doesn’t end with mining. And much of the time, it ends up looking pretty good if not amazing.

Holes in the ground fill with clear spring water and game fish are introduced. A boat launch, a beach, maybe a campground are added. Loons start nesting and because the water is so clear you can see them hunting far beneath your boat. Exploring “pit lakes” in a boat, canoe or kayak is fascinating. Between the ability to see deep into the lake (but certainly not to the bottom, 200+ feet away), and the rocky walls that tower above, it’s a memorable experience in itself.

In some cases, reclamation has been done by developers. The OHV Recreation Area in Gilbert is a good example. So is Giants Ridge Golf & Ski Resort. The Mesabi Trail makes use of scenic views of reclaimed mineland from one end of the Range to the other. So does Minnesota Discovery Center. Two of the most popular places for tourists to visit are Mineview in the Sky and Hull Rust Mineview, both overlooking active and reclaimed mineland. Lake Ore-Be-Gone, also in Gilbert, is a popular site for divers.

There are many other examples of mineland turned into recreation land and other tourist hotspots, and I haven’t even mentioned industrial and residential uses; after all, in more than a century there’s hardly a square foot that hasn’t been touched by mining in one way or another.

But don’t take it from me. See for yourself. Visit an area that has been influencing the national economy for a hundred years and get to know the people who love the outdoors as much if not more than anyone in the country. See an Iron Range that supports industry and wildlife, that extracts and preserves natural resources, and produces both the raw material for steel production while sustaining a way of life that many would envy.

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