For those of you who have not visited the Empire Mine State Park, please do.
The following is the latest chapter in an unfolding saga of a $2.5 billion piece of real estate (5,800,000 ounces times $430) right in the midst of Grass Valley:
After 18 years of hoping and planning by some dedicated individuals, work started a year ago on Phase One of what will be the crown jewel of the Empire Mine experience. Designated "The Underground Tour Project" by the park, this will be a 780-foot adit (tunnel) connecting to the original shaft in which the miners descended into the depths during the boom times in the 1930s.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the point of view of those involved, all work on the adit was suspended on Aug. 16 by order of the bureaucrats of the state of California because the miners had run into some old workings and "numerous safety concerns that must be resolved before work can continue."
Since the crew employed by the contractor (Morning Glory Gold Mines) has a collective experience of more than 110 years of working in the hard-rock gold mines of Northern California, their own safety is a primary consideration before they start any procedure in the tunnel they are constructing. The crew handles all safety concerns as they develop in this or any mining project.
The interesting thing about the discovery of the old workings is that it offers an entirely new possibility for the public to view an actual "stope" (the empty space from which the ore has been removed). This would give the public a much greater "feel" for what the real goal of all mining is about - to get the actual ore out of the ground. Mike Miller, the owner of Morning Glory Gold Mines, and his crew see this viewing of the lighted stope as rivaling the interest in the tour through the adit itself.
The second phase of this project (not yet funded) calls for transporting visitors by tram with dioramas depicting the advance of hard-rock mining techniques over the years. I have personally talked with many people as to whether they would like to tour a mining tunnel in a caged tram or would prefer to walk at their own pace, viewing anything interesting as they proceed.
Among those I have talked to are Al Pratti, hard-rock miner at Idaho-Maryland in the '30s; Gerard Tassone, mayor of Grass Valley; Bob Ingram, fifth generation Grass Valley resident, employed by S.P.I., and many miners and those who have toured the famous 16 to 1 mine in nearby Alleghany.
Without exception, they all preferred a walking tour rather than a covered tram. I have heard all the arguments against the walk through and I can refute them. Safety and A.D.A. requirements are the biggies. The walk could be made either wheelchair accessible or via a small ore cart equipped for handicapped. Hard hats could be rented or supplied. Docents could handle all of the normal activities as they now do at the park.
Tram operators would be salaried, loading and unloading would be a chore, and the $6 cost would not be feasible for many families. On slow days, the 30-passenger tram could probably not even operate. A significant fact of any public tour is: People have differing levels of interest. While touring the 16 to 1 mine as mentor for a 12-year-old, I noted that he stopped time after time for closer observation while others went by, without a glance, to areas of their own interest.
I repeat, if you have not yet visited the Empire, I am sure that you will find it worth your while, even without the underground tour. To get more information on the Empire Mine or to express your views, visit the Web site at www.empiremine.org.