The abandoned open pit of the former Gouverneur Talc Mine, adjacent to Rt. 58, Sylvia Lake, NY.
There are a number of abandoned mines in and around my hometown of Gouverneur, NY, but this is the one that initially piqued the Captains’ interest in the re-purposing and reclamation of abandoned mines. Growing up, I watched the waste rock piles steadily grow until about 8 years ago, when the mine closed. It left behind a 500’ hole and created an economic vacuum, neither of which has been entirely filled.
The huge terraced waste rock piles dominate an otherwise relatively flat landscape.
Despite being only 9 miles from my childhood home and having passed the mine too many times to count, my first real visit to the mine was a month ago. It’s surrounded on three sides by imposing piles of waste rock, which deters would be trespassers from entering for fear of being seen from the highway. Having finally made the hike up the piles, we were amazed to see what is on the other side.
Small scale mining operations like the one in the background are still common in the area, coming and going as the price of talc rises and falls.
The immediate sensation of finding such a massive geological feature totally abandoned, in my opinion, is somewhat similar to seeing your first mountain. There’s an initial shock that stems from the sheer scale, but unlike seeing a geological feature that wasn’t created by man, there’s also a conflicted feeling. The awe is tempered by worry about what the local and downstream environmental consequences and the future of the place might be. You are drawn to the beautiful turquoise water which has filled the pit since operations ceased and enjoy it aesthetically, but are afraid to go in for fear of what the affects may be.
Despite the massive scale and alien environment, we can imagine an exciting and productive future for the site. As part of our thesis project we did a large scale analysis of the site and speculated as to what its future could be. For starters, there are numerous mines in very close proximity, all of which are already or soon to be abandoned. They could all be linked to form a physical network of exploration and energy generation. One of the sites is an underground zinc mine, which could be used to tap into geothermal resources. The talc mine could become a resource for the community, housing a research center, residential community, or recreational facilities, by capitalizing on the amazing terraced topography of the site created by the roadways used to transport talc.
Amy gathers samples for her rock collection from the top of a pile.
Possibly the most exciting aspect of thinking about projects like this, is that, although for us this is a very personal project in some ways, it can be seen more broadly as a potential prototype for addressing the hundreds of similar sites across the country, if not the world. If we can start to see the opportunities of these sites, not disregarding the serious work of making them fit for human re-occupation, what amazing places might we create?
Amy contemplates the site’s future as the sun sets behind the head-frame of the Balmat No. 2 Zinc Mine.