Citing long standing safety concerns, the National Park Service has closed the Keane Wonder Mine in Death Valley.
In an area that led to many big time busts, but profitable small pocket mines, the Keane Wonder Mine was one of the two big gold producers in the Death Valley area along with Skidoo. The old mill site, tramway and shafts are a very popular attraction for visitors to Death Valley.
Effective immediately, visitors are no longer allowed to enter the area around the Keane Wonder mine. Open shafts and tunnels pose an obvious danger to visitors, Park Officials say that the 100 year old mine is collapsing underground, leading to unstable land above ground.
The old wooden supports for the aerial tramway need to be shored up, according to a park report. Cyanide and mercury in now exposed soils also pose a health hazard according to park officials.
The closure of the Keane Wonder mine coincides with a recent Department of Interior report on abandoned mines in the western states. The report cites many deaths at abandoned mines that have occurred over the years as people fall into shafts or are asphyxiated in mines with bad air.
According to the DOI report, 33 people died in abandoned mines across the West between 1999 and 2007. Many deaths occurred when people fell in to vertical shafts that the DOI calls ant traps.
The DOI reports lists a death at the Keane Wonder Mine where a visitor fell 30 feet down a mine shaft in 1984. The park covered the opening with a steel net, but the DOI report states that the net has since been vandalized and there are a number of other nearby mine openings that were not closed off.
Park Service Officials say its not a matter of if but when someone gets hurt at the Keane. The mine will re-open for visitors when the park service can come up with the money to address the safety concerns. Park Officials have no answer for when that might occur.
Another result of the Department of the Interior study is that Senator Dianne Feinstein has sponsored legislation to create a permanent source of funding for mine clean up in the west by using royalty fees and reclamation fees paid by existing mining operations.
Whether this proves to be source money Park staff wants at the Keane Wonder Mine is yet to be seen. In the meantime, the Keane is closed, but other popular mine sites like Skidoo remain open.