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There's Gold in Spearfish Canyon: Leave It There!
Dec 14, 2011
Last month, the state Board of Minerals and Environment approved Wharf Resources' proposal to mine more gold near Terry Peak. Our state officials are now talking with Valentine Mining about gouging out another chunk of the Black Hills. Gold miners would like to make the Ragged Top Mountain area, just over the rim of Spearfish Canyon near Savoy, a little more ragged.
Ragged Top was first mined back in 1886. Gold mining there petered out after 1914, since which time Spearfish Canyon has become known as one of the most scenic drives in South Dakota. Tourists flocking to the canyon for the fine fall colors make September one of Spearfish's best months for sales tax revenue.
The Ragged Top site is on a list of what the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources calls “Special, Exceptional, Critical or Unique lands.” State statute defines such lands as territory of great ecological sensitivity and influence and/or “scenic, historic, archaeologic, topographic, geologic, ethnologic, scientific, cultural, or recreational significance.”
Spearfish Canyon region is clearly special, exceptional, critical, and unique. Frank Lloyd Wright recognized this fact during a trip through the canyon in 1935:
"But how is it that I've heard so little of this miracle and we, toward the Atlantic, have heard so much of the Grand Canyon when this is even more miraculous. All the better eventually ... that the Dakota are not on the through line to the Coast ... My hat is off to South Dakota treasures."
Expanding the non-sustainable gold industry makes little sense. We could rev up another gold mine in the Northern Hills, drive more industrial traffic up Highway 14A, and hack up some more trees and mountaintops, just for the sake of increasing the supply of a metal used mostly for non-essential purposes. But we can only mine gold once, and such industry threatens the other natural assets of the region. The autumn rush for golden leaves enriches Spearfish Canyon and its visitors time after time, for as long as we preserve the area's natural beauty.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.