Originally posted in The Union newspaper August 27, 2004
Underground ride underway at Empire Mine State Park
By Britt Retherford
The long-awaited interactive tour that will allow visitors to experience the dim sights and damp smells of a mine shaft at Empire Mine State Park is finally going to become a reality. Construction of the underground mine tour officially begins Sept. 4, with a groundbreaking ceremony and the annual Miner’s Picnic at the state park. Plans for the tour project have been under way since the early 1980s and the original idea was to have an elevator go down to the main shaft, said supervising ranger Kevin Williams. Williams said that the idea was abandoned because of the cost and the limited number of visitors it could serve, but the idea of having an underground tour has always been hoped for.
The underground tour will take visitors on the electronic tram-ride through a 780-foot horizontal tunnel – or in miner terminology, an adit – through rock and quartz. The adit will end at an intersection with the inclined original mine shaft at about 110 feet below the earth’s surface. That same shaft goes on to extend more than a mile deep and 11,000 feet long. “It will be dark, damp, and musty. You will be able to look down in to the historic Empire shaft,” Williams said.
While riding the tram, visitors will also be able to see dioramas showing the progression of mining in the Empire Mine from the first discovery of gold in 1850 by George Roberts until its closure in 1956. Williams said the tour will be a separate attraction from the main park and will cost about $6 for a ride. Although work on the tunnel will begin with the groundbreaking, officials at the Empire Mine State Park say the project still does not have enough money to be completed without help. The contract currently does not have enough money to buy the trams, build the support facilities and the visitor center, or create the interpretive dioramas visitors will view during the tram ride.
Huge steps were made in 2000 when $2.5 million was promised to the Empire Mine State Park as part of a state bond issue that allocated $2 billion to park and recreation programs and facilities statewide. However, due to inflation, officials say this money is not enough. Currently the Park has about $1.5 million of this money, but they are at least half a million dollars shy of what is needed, Williams said.
They do have enough money, however, to complete the most important portion – the adit, Sixteen to One President and CEO Mike Miller was selected to do the work to create the adit. Miller will be using traditional mining methods to make the adit as realistic as possible. Miller has one year to complete the tunnel, although the tour will not open to the public for another two years, Williams said.