Mining is not the most environmentally friendly industry (and let’s face it, what industry really is?), and the scars it leaves on the landscape often outlast by generations those mines and mine managers that were responsible for the damage. In a region that relied solely on shaft mining and rarely used chemical agents underground or in its mills (except for the case of reclamation later on), the damage inflicted on the Keweenaw by mining was relatively minor compared to other mining regions. For the Keweenaw, the most lasting scars from its past are the mine’s “left-overs” – those materials that had been left behind by the mines during each stage of production. There are three major types of these left overs: slag from the Smelting process, poor-rock from the mines, and stamp sand from the mills. Of these three, the most damaging is by far the stamp sands.
For the most part, stamp sands in the Keweenaw are inert and pose no inherent danger by means of their composition. These sands are simply just rock, crushed down into granules with a consistency similar to gravel. This inert nature, however, also means that the sands cannot sustain any plant life that may attempt to grow upon it. Wherever these sands are found, the land on which they sit has become essentially sterile – incapable of supporting life. Nowhere is this fact so visually evident, then
when you look down on the Keweenaw from high above. From there the extent of these stamp sand deposits and their affect on the environment becomes clear. Today we begin a multi-part look at the many stamp sands deposits scattered across the Keweenaw Peninsula as seen from these aerial images.
We start with the most famous stamp sands of them all…
The Gay Sands were created from the combined output of the Mohawk and Wolverine Mills, which were located next door each other in the small lumber town of Gay. These sands were dumped directly into Lake Superior, creating close to a quarter mile of new lakeshore before all was said and done. Since the mills ceases operations, the lake has managed to washed the sands down the coast for several miles, obliterating any sand beaches in its way. Currently the only thing keeping those sands migrating even further south is the break water at the mouth of the Traverse River (seen at the bottom of the image).
One of the first mills to take root along the Superior shore did so on the west end of the peninsula, at the mouth of the Salmon-Trout River. This would be the Atlantic Mine’s second mill, built in 1895 after its original mill along Portage Lake was interfering with navigation. The mill was soon joined by the Baltic Mill, built next across the river and sharing the newly constructed Redridge Steel Dam as a source of water. A year later the Copper Range empire built a trio of mills to serve its many mines, including the Trimountain, Champion, and Adventure Mines.
Unlike the Gay Sands which were protected by the full fury of Lake Superior by the Keweenaw peninsula itself, the sand deposits here on the western shore faced a daily onslaught of waves and wind. Because of this, most of the sands from these five mills have been washed away. The only sands that remain from the mills sit within protected coves and bays. The Champion sands have been washed south-west, along the shore towards Misery Bay.
Moving north from the many mills along Freda and Redridge, we find an interesting deposit of stamp sands up against the north entry breakwaters. These sands are part of a township park that most locals refer to as the “breakers”. As far as I know there was never a stamp mill here, and the existence of these sands have always perplexed me. The most likely source is the Atlantic and Baltic Mills, more then a few miles south of here. The sands from those mills were probably washed up here by a strong lake current known as the Keweenaw Current – which runs up along the peninsula’s west shore from south to north.
These sands have recently been rehabilitated by the EPA, and are now covered by a few feet of soil and a field of fresh grass.
This one takes us far outside CCE’s normal operating boundaries, down towards Baraga along Keweenaw Bay. This would be the old mill for the Mass Mine, which operated a dozen or so miles inland at Mass City. Sitting in the middle of these sands is the remains of the mines old Coal Dock, which have halted most of the sands from marching southward.
Even further south along the bay is (edit: what I thought was) the old Michigan Mill site. This mine use to be known as the Minesota Mine (spelling intentional), and was re-opened as the Michigan some time later. The sands here are much more extensive then those from the Mass Mine, and have been pushed down along the coast a good distance.
NOTE: Thanks to Joe for the correction, as these sands are in fact NOT those of the Michigan Mill, which was much further north then here. Who’s sands these are, however, is still a mystery to me.
To Be Continued….