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Cuyuna Mining didn't leave behind a strong economy

Thirty years ago citizens who lived in and loved the Cuyuna Range, along with Cuyuna Range Economic Development Inc. (CREDI), the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and others, met to discuss the future of the devastated, denuded and abandoned former mine pits. Mining had ceased, jobs were lost and the Cuyuna communities went into deep decline.

As CREDI director from 1983-1995, I learned that economic development is not just smokestacks, it is maximizing a community’s assets for future decades, a place for young people to settle down, raise families and contribute to their community’s resources, including its tax base. We kept this in mind as we began reclaiming our treasure. We honor our mining past, but now we must have a different 21st Century future, a lasting future.

Several of us saw the possibility of changing our view of this “dump” into a community asset, perhaps even a mini-Boundary Waters. What kind of use was most appropriate for this fragile terrain and its rising, sparkling, pure water, and newly growing trees and underbrush? After many planning meetings and public hearings, it was decided  it should be a unique place with “silent sports”, such as fishing, hiking, picnicking, canoeing and kayaking, birding, scuba diving and biking. Family activities.

Then the hard work began. We needed to have help from the DNR, IRRRB, the state Legislature and the Cuyuna Range community. CREDI began an annual clean-up within the nearly 5,000 acres site. On the first clean-up we had 49 dump truck loads of accumulated trash, some too gross to describe. The volunteer clean-up continued year after year and now the dumping and most vandalism have stopped.

Year after year of hard work, many pontoon rides on the mine pit lakes hosting legislators, and community meetings resulted in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, a state park without the intense development. It took thousands of people, tens of thousands of hours and millions of dollars to make this happen. Partners included the state of Minnesota, the federal government, IRRRB, Minnesota Parks and Trails, Hallett Charitable Trusts, Blandin Foundation, Central Minnesota Community Foundation, University  of Minnesota Tourism Center, Minnesota Parks and Trails Council, Minnesota Design Team, International Mountain Biking Association, many individual state legislators, and others

People came from not only Minnesota, but all over the United States and several countries to scuba dive in our clear deep waters, and bike on our world class trails. Money came in to upgrade the trails toward world-class designation. Businesses developed, which not only serve our community but our visitors. We were on our way to the future.

Recently we heard about a mining company’s interest in taking us back to our mining days. We’ve heard they only want to remove the present ore piles left over from the mining days. (If they were so valuable wouldn’t they have been taken by the former mining companies?) However, I have seen their 20-year plan. The first five years they would take the present ore piles while they get permits and promise politicians and nearby communities they will do no harm. If they are staying for 20 years there will be a lot of digging and blasting, making the area non-compatible to anything else. I haven’t heard what the impact of emptying the mine pit lakes would mean to the local water tables. Or what about businesses which would have to close because “silent sports” would end? Can they put back what nature took 50 years to build, and would take another 50 years to rebuild?

The past is a good indication of the future. Did our former mining companies leave behind a strong, healthy economy? No. They made a lot of money for a few, and when the international economic climate changed they moved on leaving the communities to fend for themselves.

These are my concerns. Are they yours?

I am not against mining. I successfully worked for a mining company. Just not mining in the recreation area. It’s too late to destroy what many have worked so long and hard to build.

If you are concerned, whether you live on the Cuyuna Range or beyond, use the Cuyuna  Range State Recreation Area or not, care about the future of all our communities, express that concern by writing to P.O. Box 181, Crosby, MN, 56441. We need to hear from you.

The mining companies have a lot of money to hire lawyers, pay local front people, hand out slick reading materials and influence politicians. What we have is a love for our community and a vision for a sustainable future.  As individuals, we ask you to contact local council and board members, county board members and state legislators. You can also write letters to the media. Share this story with friends and groups you belong to, and ask them to express their support.

Keep asking questions. It’s our community. Let’s not let it be taken away from us.