Death Valley
Historic Resource Study
A History of Mining
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Recommendations for Treatment of Death Valley Mining Sites

A. General Proposals

Specific recommendations for management of the sites studied in this report may be found in the appropriate sections of the body of the text. The following are several general comments that are valid for the entire Monument area.

All mining sites and properties researched possess various levels of historic interest and significance. Those that have been determined to be historically significant have been or are in the process of being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Those of historic interest or importance that do not meet the criteria of eligibility for the National Register due either to a lack of significance or a lack of integrity have been recommended or a policy of benign neglect. This means that the Monument would make no effort to maintain the structures at a particular site or provide or maintain access to them. It includes the recommendation that the Monument not demolish any structures on the site nor reclaim or naturalize the area.

As a general rule, benign neglect is a blanket recommendation for all mining properties within the Monument that date prior to 1942 and that do not have National Register significance. It is also recommended for certain mining properties that underwent their greatest development after that year, which was a turning point in Death Valley mining history for two reasons. First, the United States Government at that time banned mining of non-strategic minerals as detrimental to the war effort. Secondly, and more important in its effects on the Monument lands, the post-war era initiated strip-mining methods of operation, where even the smallest mining effort left a quite visible mark upon the land, in comparison to the minor surface disturbance generated by earlier underground excavations.

Death Valley National Monument announced recently the beginning of its RAMS (Reclamation of Abandoned Mining Sites) Program, whose purpose, according to the Superintendent, is the "reduction of safety hazards, removal of unwanted structures and debris, and reclamation of disturbed resources." [1] Because of the vast number of sites involved of varying significance, the broad scope of the program, and the irreversibility of some of its proposed actions, the authors share several concerns over its impact on the historic resources of the region, especially upon older mining sites that are not considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. For such sites, which have been recommended for a policy of benign neglect, the authors recommend against any demolition of existing structures or the reclamation of sites. In addition, it is strongly recommended that any necessary removal of "unwanted debris" be done with the assistance of a qualified preservationist who would be given the opportunity to record and retrieve any artifacts of value from the site. If the Monument staff decides to reclaim any pre-1942 mining sites, it is recommended that a qualified preservationist first record the site photographically, record and retrieve any artifacts, and maintain a permanent record of the site in Monument files.

As a general rule, a policy of passive safety measures is recommended for the reduction of safety hazards inherent in mine shafts and tunnels, on both National Register properties and those recommended for benign neglect. The use of steel grates, for example, placed just below the collar of shafts and immediately inside tunnel entrances is greatly preferable to the closure of shafts and tunnel through blasting or filling. Steel grates would both protect the visitors and preserve the historic integrity and flavor of the mining sites.

In regard to cultural resources on the west side of the Monument, it is recommended that efforts continue to acquire the Skidoo Mill site. This mill, the largest extant mill on Park Service lands in the Western Region with its equipment still in place, is fast deteriorating due to a lack of maintenance and the ravages of nature. If acquired, a course of action should be undertaken immediately to stabilize the mill, and plans should be made for its future restoration.

Access to the eastern side of the Monument by local residents and visitors is both easy and frequent, and the sight of four-wheel drive vehicles and motorcycles is not uncommon. Unfortunately, few of the dozens of access roads and trails are marked, so visitors do not realize when they are entering protected National Monument lands. This problem is especially acute in the Bullfrog Hills region and the Chloride Cliff area. Boundary markers should be erected as soon as possible on all entrance roads and trails. Two properties on the eastern side of the Monument, both of which have been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, need immediate stabilization and preservation work. The Keane Wonder Tramway and its lower tramway terminal both need stabilization work, to prevent their deteriorating structures from collapsing. In addition, the Homestake-King Mill foundations should be examined by an architect to determine what, if any, stabilization measures are necessary to keep those imposing foundations walls from slowly crumbling.

And, of course, the authors would like to see the fruits of their labors disseminated, through better interpretation of Death Valleys rich mining heritage. Since this was one of the main reasons behind the study itself, it is recommended that funds be programmed to implement Death Valley's interpretive program, following the recommendations given in the body at the report.

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Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003