Vandalism mars park honoring lost miners
In an effort to protect the secluded park from further vandalism, the Crow Wing County land services director said a solar-powered gate is planned for installation this spring.
Vandalism at a park honoring the memory of 41 men lost in the state’s worst mining disaster is prompting county officials to install a security gate and cameras.
Milford Mine Memorial Park near Crosby memorializes the lives lost 96 years ago on Feb. 5, 1924, in the span of mere minutes. In that short stretch of time, 48 men more than 160 feet below the surface found themselves surrounded by a slurry of mud and water as it quickly filled the vertical shaft of the Milford Mine. Just seven miners made it to the surface alive.
Last summer, two separate occurrences of vandalism at the park left graffiti in a number of places, dozens of damaged and removed interpretive signs, broken benches and destroyed cable tensioners along a lengthy boardwalk featuring the names of those who lost their lives. County staff members spent several days after those incidents reinstalling signs, painting over graffiti and fixing up the damage, according to Ryan Simonson, Crow Wing County environmental services supervisor.
“It's very sad, you know. It’s a very special park with a lot of deep meaning to the 41 miners over there that had died,” said Gary Griffin, land services director, during a phone interview last month. “And the amount of effort and collaboration of all these organizations to make a really special gem of a park over there. … So it's a great big, huge investment for this county and community. And we really want to try to protect it.”
In an effort to protect the secluded park from further vandalism, Griffin said a solar-powered gate is planned for installation this spring. Tentatively slated for placement about a mile from the park itself along Milford Lake Drive near an overflow parking lot, the gate will be controlled by a timer powered by a battery running on solar energy.
“If you're going to go in there at midnight to raise Cain, it's going to be a lot less convenient for you to park and walk in a mile or so versus if you're going to drive all the way up there,” Griffin said.
The total cost of the gate is expected to be about $11,000. REAL Solar of Backus — a for-profit corporation associated with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance — is supplying everything needed for the solar hookup, including the gate opener assembly, solar panels and battery. Oberg Fence of Deerwood will supply and install the 20-foot-long gate and posts.
If the gate works out as county officials hope, Griffin said the same type of gate might be placed at another of the county parks, the newly acquired grounds of the Pequot Lakes fire tower.
“If this gate is as advertised and really can open and close and is not a lot of maintenance … that may very well be something similar we might want to do with that area to curb that type of shenanigans,” Griffin said.
The gate is just one measure the county is employing to deter vandals, Griffin said. Extra patrols by the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office occurred following the incidents, and future plans include the installation of security cameras on the property.
Milford Mine Memorial Park was a decade in the making when its grand opening took place in 2017. The park concept was first approved in 2007 with the first phase completed in 2010. The following year, the Minnesota Historical Society listed the park as a site on the National Registry of Historic Places. Work in 2016 and 2017 added trails, boardwalk, interpretive displays, covered shelter, a canoe landing and more.
“Transforming this natural and man-made habitat into a recreation area to be enjoyed by area residents and visitors is a humble attempt to preserve the memory of those who gave their lives to pursue the American dream and provide for their families,” Crow Wing County stated on its website. “Families of this and future generations will have this park as a place of reflection, recreation, and community.”
About the disaster
Just 15 minutes more and the men in the depths of the Milford Mine would have been at the end of their shift, but that kind of luck wasn’t on their side Feb. 5, 1924, the date of Minnesota's worst mining disaster near Crosby.
When disaster swiftly struck, 48 miners were working on the 165-foot and 175-foot levels of the Milford Mine. The mine was 200 feet deep.
Little time passed between the first sign of trouble and the death of nearly all those working below as a moving inky mix of mud and water filled the Milford Mine. Their first warning something was wrong was a sudden gust of warm wind. Then a second gust and a liquid, roaring sound. The wind was so strong it blew out the carbide gas lamps on their hats or knocked hats off altogether.
The disaster fell upon them with incredible speed. Men ran for their lives. Others were trapped in mud where they stood. Survivors recalled men who lost their lives when they went back to help others. For those farther from the only way to the surface, it was a desperate race.
“No time for the gates. No time for the cage. No time for anything. I just run and fall down and run some more. I get to the ladder. I reach for it. I miss it. I grab it and start up. I am all in. But I am damned if I stop,” said Mat Kangas, Milford Mine disaster survivor in an interview with a Duluth News Tribune reporter as recalled in the book “The Milford Mine Disaster.”
Only minutes later, 41 men were dead. Seven survived. All the mine's levels, including the 200-foot deep shaft, were filled to within 15 feet of the surface in less than 20 minutes.
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the Dispatch reported the wives and children who lived in the town that sprang up around the mine crowded to the shaft. "But aid was in vain. Up came the slime ooze, licking the sides of the shaft until within a few feet of the surface. It sloshed the sides and gurgled and then retreated a distance until at 11 o'clock at night it was 20 feet from the collar or top of the shaft.
The disaster is believed to have begun when a surface cave-in of 6 or 8 feet at the mine's easternmost end tapped into mud with a direct connection with Foley Lake. The mine had a single vertical shaft to the surface. Seven men made it to the top with the water rising nearly as fast as they did.
If you go
Milford Mine Memorial Park is located at 26351 Milford Lake Drive, Crosby.
It features a memorial wall, picnic shelter, benches, picnic tables, a bicycle rack, a canoe landing and fishing platform, cooking grills, an over-the-water boardwalk, interpretive signs and trails and restrooms.
CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or email@example.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .