September 18, 2008

National Park Service Shuts Abandoned Mine

By Henry Brean



The National Park Service has closed one of Death Valley's most well-known abandoned mines because of mounting safety concerns.

The Keane Wonder Mine and the ruins surrounding it will remain off limits to all vehicle and foot traffic until safety concerns can be addressed, park officials said.

The closed area, 135 miles northwest of Las Vegas, extends from the junction of the Beatty Cutoff Road and Keane Wonder Road east to Chloride Cliff, and includes the Keane Wonder Mine, Mill and spring, Cyty's Mill, and the Big Bell and King Midas mines.

Established in the early 1900s, the Keane Wonder Mine was one of Death Valley's most productive gold operations until it closed during World War II.

The Park Service purchased the network of tunnels and mining ruins in the Funeral Mountains in 1970.

A recent inspection of the site revealed that the remains are in an advanced state of collapse and that the erosion of surface features near the mill site has exposed other hazards associated with the processing of ore . Dangers include crumbling tunnels, rock slides, unstable wooden structures, and the presence of heavy metals and residue from toxic chemicals.

The question wasn't whether someone might get hurt at the site but when, said park spokesman Terry Baldino.

No significant safety improvements have been made at the Keane Wonder Mine for two decades.

In 1984, a man was killed when he fell down a vertical shaft at the site, an accident that prompted the park service to install metal nets over a few of the more obvious holes near the parking lot, Baldino said.

The closure is expected to last until funds and staffing are available to secure the area, something that might not happen for several years "at a minimum," Baldino said.

"The work that's going to be involved is probably going to be a chunk of money we can't even imagine yet," he said.

The nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association is backing the decision to close the site and calling for more federal funding to improve the safety of abandoned mines in other parks.

According to the association, there are 2,000 hazardous mine features in Death Valley, which is home to one third of the dangerous mines located on Park Service land nationwide.

Despite that, Death Valley received no federal funding this year to clean up and ensure that mines within the park are safe, association officials said.

As recently as this spring, the park service conducted guided hikes around the Keane Wonder Mine. Baldino said those tours have been suspended indefinitely.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean or 702- 383-0350.

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