TSF Brings Legislative and Agency Staff to See Abandoned Mines

On November 7, The Sierra Fund (TSF) led a group of bipartisan legislative staff members on a tour of two iconic legacy mines in Nevada County: Empire Mine State Historic Park (SHP), once the richest hard rock mine in California, and Malakoff Diggins SHP, one of the largest abandoned hydraulic mines in the state. Big thanks to Dan Millsap of CA State Parks who participated as a tour speaker. The tour was planned after TSF CEO Izzy Martin participated in a program organized by the California Legislative Staff Education Institute (CLSEI) by guiding a group of legislative staff on the Hirschman’s Pond trail to discuss the impacts of legacy mining in the Sierra.

Legislative staff pose with TSF at the viewpoint overlooking the hydraulic mine pit, Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park.

The Sierra Fund is organizing a second tour at the end of November for staff of two state agencies, the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Department of Water Resources (DWR). Once again, attendees will visit Empire Mine and Malakoff Diggins SHPs. This tour format enables participants to juxtapose different types of legacy mines, hard rock and hydraulic, and understand the processes and contamination issues related to both. Additionally, attendees are able to see water quality improvements in action, at the Magenta Drain passive treatment system at Empire Mine, and subsequently experience a pre-remedial landscape at Malakoff Diggins where they can imagine how implementation will alter the landscape.

The second tour was inspired by a presentation that TSF Science Director Dr. Carrie Monohan gave to DOC staff as part of their Brown Bag Lunch Series, which features both internal and outside speakers on a range of topics. Dr. Monohan’s talk addressed Gold Rush-era sources of mercury and sediment, namely abandoned mines and downstream reservoirs. Agency staff expressed interest in getting on-the-ground to see sites discussed in the presentation.

The Sierra Fund sees great value in the immersive educational experience that touring mine-impacted landscapes affords. Tours help to translate academic and theoretical information into kinetic learning and offer a “big picture” view of the lasting impacts of the rush for gold that swept California more than a century and a half ago.