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Minnesota's Iron Range Mines a New Industry

By Kaomi Lee
July 20, 2021

For the past 17 years, James Pointer has helped people appreciate the state's oldest mine.

"This is a huge piece of Minnesota's history," Pointer said, of the Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park. The mine stopped operation in 1962 and eventually became a state park. Pointer said the mine still has some of the richest ore around.

"When you think about the mine, we needed steel for everything, and that's why it's a national historic landmark. It ranks up there with the Statue of Liberty, so people need to learn this history and the sacrifices [the miners] made and conditions they worked in," Pointer said.

This summer, the park resumed tours of its underground mine. The pandemic closed it down last year, but once again the elevators are running tourists more than 2300 feet below the surface to get a simulated experience of what mining life was like.

While the park focuses on what the mine was, officials in Chisholm, Minn., are redeveloping its abandoned mine into a recreational center. Twenty-five miles of mountain bike trails have been created around an old mine pit near the Discovery Center, a museum and archival collection devoted to the history of the region.

"We know mining isn't going to last forever and tourism is a strong future and we want to be that mecca," said Donna Johnson, executive director of the Discovery Center.

This summer, the Discovery Center plans to add a dock into the reservoir that the abandoned mine pit now holds. That will allow them to offer water sports like kayaking and canoeing.

"Now we're expanding beyond just that history and bringing the history out into the park and into the landscape," Johnson said.

Kaomi Lee Read More
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