A mule team assists with transportation of equipment used to perform a mine closure
July 12, 2011
Tom Blount, 423-569-9778
Big South Fork National River Area and Recreation Area contains mineral resources, including coal, oil, and natural gas, that were developed during the history of the Cumberland Plateau before the park was established in 1974. Among the remaining mineral exploitation features were numerous coal mines that were abandoned and remained open to the public for more than 70 years. These features presented a serious threat to human safety.
Funds made available from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act enabled the closure of 37 abandoned coal mines posing the greatest threat to park visitors. Work began in June 2010 and was completed in May 2011.
Specific closure methods for each mine opening were determined according to their associated risk factors and wildlife habitat significance. Mines where bats and other wildlife were known to reside or hibernate were barred with special steel gates to permit free passage of wildlife while denying human access. Other mines were closed with wire netting prior to closure to allow wildlife to exit but not re-enter the mines. Numerous access, safety, and technical challenges were encountered during project execution. A number of techniques were used to respond to these challenges, including the use of mule teams to transport modern equipment such as generators and welders to remote mine sites where modern machinery could not be used safely.
Though mines accessible to the public have been closed, these and other remaining legacy mineral extraction features still present dangers to park visitors such as mine roof collapse, subsidence, and closed-portal blow-outs due to water accumulation within the mines. In the interest of visitor safety, the park's mines are closed to the public. Do not enter abandoned mines under any circumstances as they can be extremely hazardous. Visitors that discover open mines are encouraged to report them to park management by calling (423) 569-9778.