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Mining the possibilities in Crosby: Officials discuss reopening Croft Mine Historical Park

The Croft Mine Community Committee, elected officials, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources representatives and others met Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at the Croft Mine Historical Park to discuss possibly restoring and reopening the Crosby landmark as a tourist attraction.

Croft Mine equipment
Examples of old mining equipment are displayed at the Crosby-based museum of the Croft Mine Historical Park, which has been closed indefinitely.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
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CROSBY — Past the fenced-in gates off a red dirt unpaved road lies a local man-made attraction closed to the public for years.

The Croft Mine Historical Park in Crosby recreated the experience of working in an underground mine. And after years idle, state, county and city officials met Tuesday, Sept. 27, about the possibility of reopening it.

“The DNR currently owns it but we’d like to restore it,” said Greg Mitchell, Croft Mine Community Committee member, shortly before the committee and other officials met at the historic site.

Croft Mine Community Meeting Committee gathers Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at a table in the dry house of the Croft Mine Historical Park in Crosby to discuss possibly reopening the park, which is owned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and has been closed indefinitely.
Croft Mine Community Meeting Committee gathers Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at a table in the dry house of the Croft Mine Historical Park in Crosby to discuss possibly reopening the park, which is owned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and has been closed indefinitely.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

The Croft Mine Community Committee wants to preserve and share Cuyuna Range heritage. It has brought in contractors and stated it received reasonable quotes to restore the exhibits.

“We’re looking at options on how to move forward with that process. And we want to make sure there’s interest in the community of reopening it again,” Mitchell said.

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Rich mining history

Sen. Carrie Ruud, Crow Wing County Commissioner Doug Houge, Crosby Mayor Diane Cash, DNR officials and committee members met at the “dry house,” where miners cleaned up after laboring long hours hundreds of feet underground in challenging work conditions.

“We can’t move forward until we know exactly what can be done with this piece of property,” Ruud said, one of the 15 people at the meeting. “We’re at ‘ground zero’ today.”

Exhibits formerly housed at the Croft Mine Historical Park included what life was like living in a mining community, the occupational dangers inherent in mining, the history of the Cuyuna mining process and the mining process itself.

“Crosby has a rich history in mining,” said Ruud, a Republican and chair of the Minnesota State Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee.

Miners from decades ago when the Croft Mine in Crosby was operational have their photo taken. The picture is on display at the Croft Mine Historical Park in Crosby.
Miners from decades ago when the Croft Mine in Crosby was operational have their photo taken. The picture is on display at the Croft Mine Historical Park in Crosby.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Faded newspaper clippings on display at the site recount the worst mining disaster in the state’s history — in the Milford Mine in Crosby, where 41 miners died in 1924 when a mine shaft collapsed.

“This is a wonderful piece of property that is just lying fallow and not being used,” Ruud said of the 17-acre property east of Highway 6 and 1 mile north of the Soo Line Depot Museum.

The DNR is willing to give the historical site to the city of Crosby or another entity, according to the Croft Mine Community Committee. Still, legal entanglements need to be sorted out first.

“Over the years, taxpayer dollars have been used on this property in one way or another, so we need to find out what the covenants and restrictions are in using this property,” Ruud said.

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Croft Mine

The dry house was constructed in 1914 and is the original building. Possible future uses for the dry house put forth by the committee include a coffee shop or gift shop; hosting reunions, receptions and meetings or catered events by local restaurants; and an area for concerts or an art gallery.

The Crosby area has become a popular tourist destination in recent years for mountain biking enthusiasts with many businesses in town catering to visitors with equipment rentals and restaurants.

“It’s important that we have other things for the rest of the family members to do and be involved in the city, and this would just be one more thing. … I know as a kid I always — my folks were in Deerwood — I always enjoyed coming here, Mom would bring us,” Ruud said.

The Croft Mine produced 1.8 million tons of ore from 1914 to 1933. Former Gov. Rudy Perpich announced in 1978 a program to restore the Croft Mine; two years later, former Gov. Al Quie dedicated the park and opened it to the public.

Cuyler Adams, an early engineer and land surveyor, discovered iron ore in the region. The Cuyler Adams office and a cottage on the property have severely damaged foundations, according to the committee. They are among the proposed restoration projects.

“We would like to use the assets that we have here to make it possible to have a revenue stream that would be more than able to handle the costs of doing it,” said Barb Grove, an ardent proponent of restoring the park.

Prior and future uses of the site include tours of the mine with information about the Iron Range. Elevator rides down into a replicated underground mine provide a simulated mine experience for visitors to the Croft Mine Historical Park.

“I have a lot of friends who have shifted from running to biking,” DNR Assistant Commissioner Shannon Lotthammer, a cross-country runner in high school. “And they just love to come up here and recreate and take part in what the community has to offer.”

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Historical park

The Croft Mine Community Committee proposes relocating the office and the cottage on the property closer to the dry house, putting them up on cement slabs and renovating the buildings.

“Literally, right over the fence, is the Cuyuna Lakes (State) Trail, so this would be a very popular place if it’s designed and financed correctly, and that’s why we’re here — to find out what the options are and what they aren’t,” Grove said shortly before the meeting.

Mitchell added, “When people are riding on the trail, they could show up here.”

MORE ARTICLES BY FRANK LEE:
The ground was broken for the Mississippi Landing Trailhead Park project in Brainerd in June. The planned greenspace with trails and pathways, a community amphitheater and an outdoor classroom with steps down along East River Road was previously a Tourist Park attracting thousands.

The Croft Mine Historical Park reopened in 1989 after improvements were made with a simulated mine shaft ride, mine tours, a museum, mining artifacts, a picnic site and a playground. The Croft Mine was included in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation in 1993. It has only been open sporadically in the past 20 years.

"People who have visited the Soo Line Depot in Crosby — who have probably been here at the mine before — have asked us, 'How come this is not open?'" Ejie Hanson said while at Tuesday’s park meeting. “The worst thing is to see these buildings demolished.”

Bathroom facilities, cosmetic upgrades such as paint and a handicap-accessible evaluation of the building would be needed as well before the park could reopen to the public, according to the committee.

A sign explains to visitors to the Croft Mine Historical Park underground mine recreation how laborers worked decades ago.
A sign explains to visitors to the Croft Mine Historical Park underground mine recreation how laborers worked decades ago.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

“Step 2 is to take what we know and to write a business plan and figure out how we’re going to fund it, how we’re going to maintain it and how we’re going to bring people into it,” Mitchell said.

Ruud added, “It doesn’t make sense to let this beautiful piece of property and this historic property just lay fallow, so if we can find a wonderful use that would enhance this area, we would like to do that.”

For more information about the Croft Mine Community Committee, email CroftMineCommunityCommittee@gmail.com or visit bit.ly/3BZL0tW .

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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