Mining as tourism: 'Look! A weed's growing!' | WisCommunity

Mining as tourism: 'Look! A weed's growing!'

Two state agencies, the DNR and Commerce, are already falling all over themselves to promote a huge open pit ore mine in northern Wisconsin.  Will the Dept. of Tourism be next to jump on the bandwagon?

Michigan's Upper Peninsula promotes a 3-hour tour of the Tilden mine (pictured) near Ishpeming (that's how we feel about it, too! Ishpeming!) Some highlights (for your amusement, I've highlighted a few things):

Oddly, the huge open pit is less dramatic than the plant interior. The pit activity is far away. Blasts occur three times a week, in the morning, never at tour time. It's immediately apparent how enormously capital-intensive this operation is. Truck tires are 12 feet high, and they cost in the neighborhood of $20,000 each, tourgoers are told; a shovel would cost $9 million to replace.


Mine operations never stop. The Tilden Mine employs around 815 skilled workers, from metallurgists, engineers, and computer operators to heavy equipment operators. Today the hematite pit is around 500 to 550 feet below the viewing area. There's enough ore to go down 800 feet more.

Inside the taconite processing plant, the noise from crushers and huge rotating mills makes it hard to hear. Signs explain steps in processing. A clearly written free souvenir booklet with color photos lets tourgoers review everything: business rationale, operations, environmental impact.


The plant experience involves almost all your senses. It is quite warm - briefly - by the kilns. Occasionally the angled geometry of the chutes and towers strikingly frame outside views of the massive piles of rugged red waste rock and the precisely angled piles of pellets. Even in this monumentally unnatural environment, weeds and pine trees are taking hold, attesting to the power of living things.

The tour ends in the quiet control room, where experienced employees invite visitors' questions. Tourgoers leave with a free plastic goody bag including souvenir taconite pellets. It bears the mining motto, "If it can't be grown, it has to be mined."

Is this really want we want in northern Wisconsin? Do you think it will attract lots of tourists from Minnesota and Illinois? Minnesotans have seen enough mountains of iron ore tailings to last a lifetime. This may even be a hard sell for Illinoisans who don't get out much. They come to northern Wisconsin for scenic beauty and peace and quiet. There's not much of either near the Tilden mine.


May 19, 2011 - 5:38pm