It looks like what you might expect from many of the state’s beautiful parks: forest, water. But the preservation of this park is not for casual recreation, but to commemorate a specific part of Minnesota history: open pit mining on the Range.
The Hill Annex Mine (named for James J. Hill) was originally optioned for exploration in 1892, although actual mining didn’t begin until 1913 and continued for 65 years. When the high-grade ore was exhausted, the mine was sold to the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board for the reasonable price of $1. The IRRRB developed it as a tourist site, and in the late 1980s the state made it a state park.
Today, the park offers tours on weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. There are two tours: a 90-minute mine tour and a fossil hunt. The latter has had participants who found some rare items, including shark’s teeth. The mine tour takes visitors through the mine, guided by a specialist with a mining background. Our guide was friendly, knowledgeable, and had some great mining anecdotes to share.
It’s clear that once the mining operation left, nature started moving back in.
Trees have been planted, but they’ve also sprung up on their own. Lakes have formed, and wildlife has returned, including deer, grouse, eagles, and coyotes. It’s so peaceful today that it’s hard to imagine what it was like 40 years ago. There are a few reminders.
Machinery is available for exploration.
Occasionally, across the sky you can see another piece of machinery still in place.
The tour took us to the top of the hill, and the view was amazing.
The visitor center was formerly the lodging house for some of the miners. Today it holds a gift shop and a well-thought-out display detailing the history of the Hill Annex Mine. Including the building off the back of the center that used to be a single lane bowling alley.
What else is happening in our state? Be sure to check out the 10 p.m. Sunday night WCCO newscasts, where you can learn more in the weekly segment, Finding Minnesota.