Recovery Funds Will Help Seal Abandoned Mines in Joshua Tree National Park

Prospectors hoping to retire rich burrowed into the high desert that today is part of Joshua Tree National Park. Few made it rich. The one mine that did produce millions of dollars worth of gold and silver was the Lost Horse Mine, which used this mill to crush the ore. Historic American Buildings Survey photo.

Though most associate mining with the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada, in the late 19th century the lure of gold and silver ore bodies lured miners into the southern California desertscape now claimed by Joshua Tree National Park. Few prospectors made strikes, but left in their wake hundreds of mine openings that the park slowly is closing for public safety.

The park's mining history is largely filled with tales of broken dreams, but one prospector who made a strike was Johnny Lang, whose Lost Horse Mine, which is said to have produced roughly $5 million in gold and silver between 1894 and 1931. For those who failed to strike it rich, it wasn't for lack of trying. Park officials estimate that about 300 mines were staked during the late 1800s and into the 1900s.

To protect visitors from being injured while inspecting these workings, park crews have been working over the years to seal off the mines. In November work will begin to close 22 abandoned mines in the park. Funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, park crews will close eight mines, while contractors will be used to close another 14.

According to park officials, "the mine sites comprise 40 total openings of horizontal adits and vertical shafts. Eleven of the openings will be treated by park staff while the remaining 29 openings will be closed by park contractors. Mines will be closed using techniques developed at Joshua Tree that ensure public safety but protect the mines’ wildlife and historic values. Hazardous chemicals
and other unsafe materials will be removed and properly disposed. Special gates will cover mine openings to prevent human access but allow use by bats, desert tortoises, and other native wildlife. Numerous mine locations are located in Congressionally designated wilderness, and mine closure activities at these sites will fully comply with established wilderness management guidelines and practices."

“These improvements will remove hazards at numerous mines located throughout the park’s backcountry. In addition to creating jobs, this project improves the safety of visitors at Joshua Tree National Park and enhances the value of these mines sites for wildlife,” said Joshua Tree Superintendent Curt Sauer.

The fine print: All solicitations for contract services will be posted on the federal government’s Fed Biz Opps website (www.fbo.gov). Contractors, businesses, and individuals seeking information about Recovery Act projects can search the site under Opportunity and enter key words such as ‘recovery’ or even a zip code to learn about Recovery Act activities in a particular geographic area. The site has a Getting Started section with helpful information for those people new to federal contracting.

Contracting for park mine closures funded through the Recovery Act will be handled by the National Park Service’s Denver Service Center located in Lakewood, Colorado. Inquiries about these projects can be made to Brenda Karl at 303-98706747, or Rebecca Bizier at 303-969-2362. Information and future updates relating to other park Recovery Act opportunities will be posted on the Fed Biz Opps website.

Comments

I was alarmed when I saw the title of this piece, until I read further. I'm SO glad they will install bat-friendly gates. Too often a private landowner will literally SEAL the bats in a mineshaft so as to protect themselves from liability. This is the time of year when bats get ready for hibernation, so installing proper gates are a good idea to minimize disturbance. There are about 25 species of bats known to use mines. Many colonies will use mines because they have nowhere else to go. Bats need all the safe habitat they can get!

As you can probably guess, I am a BIG fan of bats. Thanks for posting this article.