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Wharf Mine: Grim Black Hills Extraction-Attraction

Staple a poster for your rummage sale to a phone pole, or put up a sign with plastic tie-downs or visible bolts on your property, and the City of Spearfish will bust your chops for such offending the splendor of the Black Hills.

But if you want to look for gold in full view of the Black Hills's best ski resort, splendor is a minor inconvenience. Fire up the bulldozers!

Wharf Mine, north of Terry Peak, Black Hills, South Dakota, 2013.06.09. Click to enlarge.
Wharf Mine, panoramic view, north of Terry Peak, Black Hills, South Dakota, 2013.06.09. Click to enlarge.
Southeast edge of Wharf Mine, viewed from Barefoot Resort, near Terry Peak, Black Hills, South Dakota, 2013.06.09.
Southeast edge of Wharf Mine, viewed from Barefoot Resort, near Terry Peak, Black Hills, South Dakota, 2013.06.09. (Bear Butte is visible in the haze, just below the horizon, right of center.)

The folks digging and driving through that dust on Sunday probably make more each year than the help at Terry Peak. Mining has traditionally offered some of the best wages in Lawrence County, wages now going to 155 workers and contractors.

It is absorbing to watch men and machines doing their work on this massive dig, this Diesel-driven inversion of the Pyramids. And Wharf offers computer simulations saying that when they've taken all the gold they want, they can turn this land back to green rolling hills (minus a peak or two) and even make the skiing better.

But I've got to wonder: how many mountains can we knock down and put back? How much of the Black Hills are we willing to re-engineer, if not contaminate, all for the sake of a one-time moneymaker?


  1. Stan Gibilisco 2013.06.09

    Some of my best friends live up on Terry Peak near the ski resort. Used to be a pretty drive all the way up there. No longer. Just before you get to their turnoff, you come to the place where they've stripped the hillsides. It's a horrible sight. I'll bet more than a few tourists have gone home and told stories about it. Not good advertising. And all because of a yellow metal that has driven humans mad since the beginning of civilization.

  2. kurtz 2013.06.09

    Look on the bright side, Stan...uh, never mind.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.09

    Stan, you're a science guy. Perhaps you can speak to the relative utility of gold in the modern economy. How much of the market for gold is just for making pretty stuff, and how much of the market puts gold to good essential uses?

  4. lee schoenbeck 2013.06.09

    since Christmas, two peaks have been vaporized! East of the river, most South Dakotans tink of gold mines as the underground kind --- I dont think there is a high degree of recogniztion that they are making whole mountains just disapear! very sad

  5. kurtz 2013.06.09

    Lee: have you been hacked?

  6. SDBlue 2013.06.09

    As an east river kid, I spent many summers vacationing with my folks in the Black Hills. Salt water taffy from Keystone was a tradition. So was a drive through Spearfish Canyon with a stop to wade in the crystal clear water. What is happening out there now makes me sick. Sadly, our red state cares as much about the environment as it does about education.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.09

    Kurtz, turn off the hack alert. You don't have to be a Democrat to recognize that the loss of a mountaintop should give us pause.

    Now, Lee, what should we do about it?

  8. John Wrede 2013.06.09

    With the legislative overhaul of DENR oversight over mining permits and inspections in South Dakota two sessions ago, legislators sent a message to all of us......... Environmental contamination and rape of natural resources in the Black Hills is inconsequential to the importance of economic development, job creation, and improving the tax base so that all of us can have a better quality of life in South Dakota. The extraction industries including mining, timber, grazing, off roading, and a few other activities strongly supported by insensitive conservatives, have been chopping away at the aesthetics and integrity of the Black Hills System for well over 5 decades and we are nearly beyond the point of being able to recover. What is most in danger now and well into the future, is the quantity and quality of water. Mining wastes water (anybody ever see what a bunch of recreational gold miners with a few dredges and mini-back hoes can do to a pristine stream in a matter of a few minutes)? To say nothing of the fishery. Cattle are deficating in and tromping small tributary streams into eroded, polluted cesspools, and loggers are building roads and skidder trails that send tons of sediment into these streams as well as into aquifer access points. The taxpayer will pay to try and clean up these messes but by the time we come to our senses and find the money, the clean up bill will have quadrupled in price. If we think the oil and gas issue is huge, just wait until people start running out of good water to drink, or water their cows or go fishing in....... It is the next major crisis this nation faces. We've known it was coming years ago (just look at the Colorado river issues and what the City of Las Vegas has done to try and sustain the glitz)and yet we never address our bad behavior until it is too late..........

  9. TonyAmert 2013.06.09


    Only about 10 percent of the annual gold production is used in industrial applications. 50 and 40 percent is used for jewelry and investment needs respectively.

  10. Donald Pay 2013.06.10

    Opposition to mining has been a bi-partisan issue, though often that has not penetrated the statehouse.

    Wharf was the first surface mine in the modern era. Most people don't realize that opposition to this mine was led by well-connected Republicans who owned land and development property in the Terry Peak area. I'm not sure whether it was inside pressure (Republicans getting to Jankow), but the initial permit was the only one that DENR ever opposed.

  11. Nick Nemec 2013.06.10

    Mountain top removal exists not just in coal mining areas of Appalachia but in South Dakota too. Many people don't even know this but it's been going on in the Hills for over a century, just look at The Open Cut in Lead. I knew its modern form existed but didn't really know what it looked like until I went skiing this past winter for the first time in several years. During my college years I went cross country skiing through the exact area being mined now. It's changed.

  12. John 2013.06.11

    South Dakota's rulers don't get it. Folks move to places having ambiance - not holes in ground. Ever hear of an entrepreneur moving to Gillette, or Williston? If South Dakota keeps turning the northern hills, or the Black Hills into more superfund sites one day those who govern the state may have the superfund sites and mining holes left for themselves.

  13. Les 2013.06.11

    Commissioner/Senator Ewing appears to be our only opportunity with an empty headed DENR when it comes to approving permits. There was a situation daily turning the Spearfish Creek into a sluice box looking cream. I reported it and rather than send their Rapid City person out to detail it they sent me a long form to fill out for the record. But yet, they tell me I can't flush my system of the water they have approved for me to drink into that very creek.

  14. Les 2013.06.11

    I could be wrong Donald, but I thought Republican Senator Adelstein was an owner of Spearfish Canyon Lodge sitting under the base of Deadwood Standard.
    People need to understand the geology of the Black Hills is not your norm. There have been septic tank issues where they dropped dye in the stool, flushed and within minutes had traces coming from the well. Limestone mountains with gold mining have proven the dangers and now we want to experiment with toxic uranium and billions of gallons of our precious water. .
    There was a time I thought Wharf couldn't take that mine over the top to where it would become visible from Cement Ridge. I don't know if that was the case is very visible from Cement Ridge.

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