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Old Dominion Mine Park project receives prestigious Merit Award from BHP Billiton

A mine park in Globe-Miami was recognized recently by BHP Billiton’s world wide network of properties with a Merit Award. 

If you’ve lived in Globe-Miami a long time, you might remember when the Old Dominion Mine was an unused mine site, with crumbling foundations, eroded tailing piles and rusting machinery. The deserted mine site was closed to the public, although well known to the community as most had explored it in their youth. BHP Billiton, which purchased the property in 1995 from Magma Copper, was ready to begin reclamation proceedings in the mid-1990s and they held public meetings on the matter.

Were they surprised to have a huge public turnout…one that had public comments overwhelmingly in favor of preserving the character of the mine and making the site into a walking park for the community?  In a community used to the comings and goings, the ups and downs of mining, it must have seemed remarkable that people asked that history be preserved rather than razed.

Now a premier city park, the Old Dominion Post Mining Legacy project has earned a Merit Award in the BHP Billiton annual Health, Safety, Environment & Community recognition program. The park project was judged along with more than 100 projects submitted by BHP Billiton’s wide network of properties throughout the world and was one of only eight to earn the Merit Award.

The small but dedicated Old Dominion Historic Mine Park Committee has been working since the 1990s on the concept of a walking park on the site. The work done to reclaim the site is striking, with huge piles of tailings re-contoured then covered and planted with native vegetation with the goal of bringing the site closer to its original state. Early progress of the volunteer committee, a subcommittee of the Gila County Historical Society, was measured in tiny steps as they visualized what could be and translated those ideas to a map of the property.

BHP Billiton was a partner in the process to establish the park, agreeing to keep the access roads used in the reclamation project intact for use as biking and hiking trails and working with the committee on locating those trails where ever feasible.

A huge outcry to save the camera-friendly headframe convinced BHP Billiton to preserve that iconic structure and visitors to the park now can walk up within yards to get a closer look. The park, with its self-guided tour, is atypical of mining properties where companies typically discourage visitors because of safety or liability concerns. Crafting the easement agreement with the safety of visitors paramount helped make the idea of having the public on the property palatable to both BHP Billiton and the city of Globe.

The committee has changed membership through the years, but several volunteers have been at work on the project from day one. Dr. Thea Wilshire chairs the group and she is a driving force for the committee, overseeing and indeed preparing many of the grant applications and funding requests that have allowed the installation of interpretive and educational signage that explains not only the history of the site, but of copper mining in general. Picnic tables, large group ramadas and attractive signage, as well as the public restroom and drinking fountains, are in place because Dr. Wilshire and her group became the “squeaky wheel” that continuously promoted the cause of the park.

Working hand in hand with the mining company, specific walking areas were identified and a large flat area next to the slag piles was set aside as a “boneyard” for old mining equipment, much of it donated by BHP Billiton, as well as other local mining companies. Company representatives helped identify the best area for placement of the benches and shade structure. BHP Billiton remains in charge of the site and works closely with the committee to ensure that park works well for both the company and for the city.

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The Old Headframe of the Dominion Mine. Courtesy Photo

Visitors to the park will enjoy strolling the Globe Ledge or Mule Shoe Trails or perhaps using a little more lung capacity on the Interloper Trail…all named for original mine claims in the area. One of the attractions of the park is the variety of trails that range from level to steeper. On a typical day, there will be dog owners, mountain bikers and families with baby strollers and young children on the paths—to say nothing of disc golf enthusiasts who were pleased to see the city install the course last year.

In addition to the trails, the “boneyard” is easily accessible over level ground. More than 50 pieces of equipment are on display, most with signage for those eager to learn how the mine worked in earlier days of underground mining. Smelter ladles, a man cage that hauled miners down the main shaft and a large agitator are just a few highlights of the boneyard which continues to expand with the support of BHP Billiton and other local mining companies.

The current project underway is installation of a handicapped-accessible playground near the group picnic areas of the park. A kid friendly mine tunnel already has been installed and work is beginning soon on the other playground equipment. The playground suffered a huge setback when thieves struck recently and vandalized the playground and stole the zip line and some other playground equipment. The community has rallied and more than $1,000 has been raised for a reward to find the perpetrators, as well as several thousand in donations to help replace and to complete the playground.

More than 6,100 volunteer hours have been recorded on the park with thousands more not officially counted. Many local contractors have donated equipment and labor to the project through the years and their donations, along with that of BHP Billiton and other mining firms, have made the project possible. Even when different projects were part of a construction grant, almost all companies donated a significant amount of equipment, time and labor above and beyond the project.

Grants and donations have totaled more than $300,000 with an additional $240,000 of in-kind donations for a value of more than half a million dollars invested in this unique park. It would have been much easier, and no doubt much less expensive, for BHP Billiton to have simply reclaimed the park, demolished the structures and locked the gates to the public.

Instead, this partnership of BHP Billiton, the city, the Gila County Historical Society and the committee has resulted in a city park that is drawing history and mining enthusiasts and hikers from throughout the state.  It is an investment that will pay dividends for decades to come for the local area and for the mining industry.

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