Not long after Homestake Mining Company announced its intent to close operations in Lead, we were listening to a National Public Radio story about an ice climbing park in Ouray , Colorado, a former mining town that has remade itself by farming ice.
My daughters' mother turned to me and said: "Wow, they should do that in the Open Cut."
It was if she had spoken with the voice of God. The very next day, I made an appointment and met with Bruce Breid, the general manager charged with the mine's mothballing, an aerial photo of the pit displayed on the wall behind his desk.
"What a brilliant idea, Mr. Kurtz. We have water here, here, and here," Mr. Breid said, pointing to locations at the rim near the Homestake Visitor Center. "Can you provide a legal instrument holding Homestake harmless?"
Right. There was that.
Though not a climber myself, more research led me to locals, some of whom had actually climbed some of the natural seeps deep in the pit while working for subcontract miners.
The horseshoe-shaped bowl directly under the Visitors Center is geologically sound, with anchors for top roping easy to place.
I have spoken to every Lead mayor since. The desired property is in the city limits.
Barrick, the current owner, has resisted any discussion of the concept.
The authority governing development of the lab looks at me like deer in headlights.
The Open Cut contributes about 11 percent of the water to the mine being pumped for the lab. Ice climbing park would add another 5,000 gallons or so.
If a clay liner were applied to the floor of the pit, the resulting reservoir - mostly acidic mine runoff - could be tapped for emergency fire fighting or diverted to the treatment facility in Central City.
I think some of that is already happening.
Lead has a long wait before the lab starts producing the number of jobs needed to sustain the community now. Hope they hang on.
This Forum piece is written by Larry Kurtz, a retired contractor who lives in Basin, Mont. and who owns 40 acres in the Black Hills. Kurtz blogs at http://interested-party.blogspot.com.