Mining has been taking place in northern Minnesota for over 100 years, but what visitors often find surprising about the Iron Range is the extent of mine reclamation that’s taken place. It’s not a wasteland.
Reclamation: reforesting, wetland re-creation, mine pits filling with groundwater, these things are happening on the Iron Range all the time. Either managed by the mining companies and regulators (dewatering an area for mining and moving the water into an existing wetland, watershed or pit for example), or by Mineland Reclamation– a division of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board – or by nature’s hand, change doesn’t end with mining. And much of the time, it ends up looking pretty good if not amazing.
Holes in the ground fill with clear spring water and game fish are introduced. A boat launch, a beach, and maybe a campground are added. Loons start nesting and because the water is so clear you can see them hunting far beneath your boat. Exploring “pit lakes” in a boat, canoe or kayak is fascinating. Between the ability to see deep into the lake (but certainly not to the bottom, 200+ feet away), and the rocky walls that tower above, it’s a memorable experience in itself.
In some cases, reclamation has been done by developers. The state’s only off-road vehicle play park, the OHV Recreation Area in Gilbert, is a good example. So is Giants Ridge Recreation Area. The 115-mile paved Mesabi Trail bicycle path makes use of scenic views of reclaimed mineland from one end of the Range to the other. So does the museum of the Iron Range, Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm. Two of the most popular places for tourists to visit are Mineview in the Sky in Virginia and Hull Rust Mineview in Hibbing, both providing sweeping views of active mining and reclaimed, reforested mineland, often dotted with mine lakes. Lake Ore-Be-Gone, also in Gilbert, is a popular site for divers and camping enthusiasts, not to mention swimmers/sunners at the beach.
There are many other examples of mineland turned into recreation land and other tourist hotspots. Industrial and residential uses are continually being developed; after all, in more than a century there’s hardly a square foot that hasn’t been touched by mining in one way or another.
For some, it’s difficult to reconcile the image they may have of the Iron Range with the actual place itself. The region rarely appears in statewide media unless there’s a mining issue, which is understandable because Minnesota mining has been influencing the national economy since the first shipment of ore in 1893. What usually doesn’t come across is that despite mining, or in many cases, because of it, outdoor recreation thrives. There are dozens if not hundreds of places in the state to boat, swim, ATV, golf, ski and/or bicycle. But there’s only one place where outdoor recreation and industry coexist in such an up-front, visually appealing way. See an Iron Range that supports industry and wildlife, that extracts and preserves natural resources, and produces both the raw material for steel production while sustaining a way of life that many would envy.