Soudan Underground Mine tours resume SaturdayThe park closed after a March 2011 fire deep below the surface that took several days to completely extinguish.
By: News Tribune staff, Duluth News Tribune
Closed for more than a year after a mine shaft fire, the Soudan Underground Mine State Park will reopen to public mine tours starting Saturday.
“Cleanup and repair of the mine shaft is now complete, so we are looking forward to welcoming visitors back to full access at the park,’’ Park Manager Jim Essig said in a statement Monday.
The March 2011 fire occurred deep below the surface of the half-mile deep mine and took several days to completely extinguish. It forced reconstruction of parts of the mine shaft. A state fire marshal's report last year said the fire probably was caused by sparks resulting from maintenance work in the shaft.
Park crews in the mine were replacing old steel sheeting in the lowest 600 feet of the mine shaft when the fire broke out. Damage was confined to the mine shaft, and there was no major fire damage in the elaborate physics laboratory at the mine’s lowest level.
Three different tours will be available at the park for the 2012 season, running every day through Sept. 30 and then weekends until Oct. 21. The underground mine tour, high energy physics lab tour (operated by the University of Minnesota) and the free, self-guided surface tour will be available at the state park. Tours of the mine show what it was like to work in the underground iron ore mine that operated from the 1890s to 1960s.
Park officials expect a busy season.
“Visitors were disappointed that they couldn't visit the underground portion of the mine last summer, so we expect to see more than our normal 34,000 visitors this year,” Essig said.
Park access is free. Guided tours into the mine depart on the hour, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at $12 for adults, $7 for children age 5 - 12 and free for children under age 5. Required hard hats are provided for underground tours. Visitors are encouraged to check the park website for suggested footwear and clothing, and for other important details.
The park is home to a large population of bats that are frequently monitored for White Nose Bat Syndrome, a fungus that is killing bat populations in 17 eastern states and three Canadian provinces. It has not yet been found in Minnesota. As a special precaution to protect the bat population, the DNR asks visitors to disinfect any clothing or equipment that may have come in contact with contaminated mines or caves in other states prior to their visit to the park.
For more information go to www.mndnr.gov.