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Spearfish Canyon in 2002. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.
Spearfish Canyon in 2002. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.

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.


12:50 pm - Wed, December 14 2011
Bernie Hunhoff said:
I wonder how the reclamation sites have fared over the last 10-12 years? We did a big feature article in about 1998 on efforts to reclaim the strip mined mountains around Lead and Deadwood. We should go back and take a look this summer.
02:40 pm - Wed, December 14 2011
John Andrews said:
I thought the problem with gold mining was that it cost way more to pull the gold out than it was actually worth? So what's different here? I know first hand how tough gold mining can be. I only walked away with about $5 worth of gold flecks last summer at the Broken Boot mine near Deadwood.
03:58 pm - Wed, December 14 2011
John, a couple of my friends have suggested that the remaining gold in the Black Hills may be like the tar sands oil in Alberta: it's not worth mining at the commodity prices of a decade or two ago, but today's rising prices make it worth the dig... from a short-term corporate shareholder-profit-über-alles perspective
04:34 pm - Wed, March 7 2012
randy newberry said:
I think it sould be left to someone to pan for gold in a very small scale like dig with a shovel and a pick like in the old days but with out dynamite it might take years upon years but it would be fun and exciting thanks Randy Newberry
01:03 pm - Thu, November 29 2012
gus kuesis said:
i think like randy leave it alone so every body who dreams of finding that one nugget will get that chance the big companys are ruining every thing with there one way thinking god made it for all of us to enjoy what a site.
09:46 pm - Sat, March 1 2014
shane frericks said:
l will be honest with you guys. I am a gold miner in those black hills and there is lots of gold left in the hills. l do quite well at this hobby turn business. But there should be areas left off limits to mining. And Spearfish canyon is one. Like my ranch there is also native prairie left. It in it's self is a ecosystem that l enjoy very much. The farmers are breaking it up at the rate of unbelievable to the mind for yellow gold corn. Nothing is be said about that and it should be. Thanks Obama

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