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UW-Madison group tours mine sites, Miners Memorial Park


Ryan Jarvi/Daily Globe

CARL SACK, University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student of geography, right, examines a poster on Tuesday at the site of the Pabst Mine disaster that occurred in 1926. A group of more than 30 students and faculty members visited the area as part of a trip examining environments impacted by the mining industry.

IRONWOOD - Friends of the Miners Memorial Heritage Park gave a tour to around 30 graduate students and faculty members from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Culture, History and Environment on Tuesday.

For the past eight years the center has taken annual trips to various destinations that reflect each year's theme. This year's being, "Landscapes of Extraction," the group visited a number of mining locations.

"On this trip we're really interested in sites that could both document the historical heritage of mining but also express some of the challenges of how to take mining landscapes and do new things with them," said Garrett Nelson, a graduate student studying geography.

Nelson has been on two previous trips and helped coordinate this year's event, which was the first time the center has visited Ironwood.

"The story of this place, it's first about geologic time; how do these iron formations get here, and then how does iron become a valuable resource for industrialization, and how is the flow of people from Europe to the U.S. involved with the U.S. opening the frontier," he said. "So you get all of these cumulative historical stories. It's sort of like people and the environments they live in unfolding together. The land shapes the people that live there, and the people shape the land."

The tour started out at Hiawatha Park with a brief history of the Norrie Mine site, which was discovered in 1882.

"The Norrie Mine used over one million board-feet of timber per year, just in this one mine to shore up the underground as they tunneled and made their way through," said Ivan Hellen, historian for the Friends of the MMHP.

The group also stopped at the Aurora Mine site and the site of the Pabst Mine disaster that occurred in 1926.

"We're trying to preserve the history and educate the younger people and honor those who sacrificed," Hellen told the tour group. "It's nice to see young people here with an interest in history and historical preservation. You don't see that."

Part of the field trip involves trying to understand the process of mining, but also learning how to read a landscape, as in what is below ground and how it can impact what's above ground.

"What's cool about this group is there is a lot of different disciplines and people," said Sarah Scarlett, a graduate student studying historical architecture.

With people from backgrounds in zoology, history, anthropology, art and others, Scarlett said the diverse group offers a number of different interpretations on the subject.

"It's always helpful to talk to people with different viewpoints," she said.

Monie Shackleford, president of the Friends of the MMHP, said the tour was a good opportunity to increase awareness of the park.

"Part of our job is to promote the park and make people aware of it, especially people from other places," she said. "Particularly this group, they have all sorts of different knowledge bases that might help us because we're kind of still learning about this history here ourselves."

Shackleford said one member of the center's group introduced a good resource for finding maps that will come in handy as her organization moves forward with their plans for the park.

Gregg Mitman, director of the center, said the group is interested in the changing relationships between people and landscapes, and how communities deal with the economic opportunities and hardships during and after the industry's boom.

"If we don't understand that, it's easy to take positions on one side or another," Mitman said, relating history to current events.

"We're all dependent on minerals. We're trying to understand how historical pasts can shape the way people think about the present."


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