Healing souls, healing a mountain

Published: Saturday, July 26 2014 6:30 p.m. MDT

The people of Holden Village mingle with contractors carrying out the mine remediation project by Rio Tinto in Washington.

Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News

HOLDEN VILLAGE, Wash. — Two very different worlds are in collision, carrying out a mission that is on one level in disharmony and in contradiction.

Community members of Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat that hosts visitors from all denominations, engage in daily prayer, group sing-a-longs and near constant hilarity in their quest for spiritual renewal. Hilarity is one of the core values inherent in their conviction that they have been called by God to this place.

Across the creek, just a short distance from the village in these northern Cascade Mountains of central Washington, the Rio Tinto Holden Mine remediation project unfolds with blasting at a quarry, 40-ton mining trucks rumbling down a road, the snarling sharp jaws of logging blades devouring thousands of trees.

Holden Mine was once one of North America's largest producing copper mines, delivering $66 million worth of metals despite the challenges of access, its isolation and its 200 inches of annual snowfall.

Rio Tinto, owner of Utah's Kennecott operation, inherited the defunct mine site seven years ago through a business transaction and agreed to assume responsibility for the cleanup, which began in earnest last year.

To get to this remote mine during its operation from 1938 to 1957, you traveled by boat for 40 miles north on Lake Chelan, the third deepest lake in the United States, plunging to a depth of 1,500 feet.

Today, you can arrive there by hydroplane or helicopter as well, although the ferry remains by far the most popular mode of transportation. Upon landing, the mining village sits 10 miles up a winding, dirt road that climbs 1,100 feet to a spot in this modern day world where there are still no cars, just school buses, little to no Internet service and power that comes from a diesel generator.

The village is actually chalets, lodges, a bowling alley, a recreational hall and a mess hall. There's also a post office, a hose house and a collection of buildings and dormitories that housed miners and their families, hosting dances and socials and pool tournaments.

On this day, the workers who are repairing the damage done from the mining are snatching mouthfuls of ice cream in a parlor with a checkered black and white floor. They have orange construction vests and hard hats on. In the same room, a few of the village ladies are dancing and occasionally holding hands while they sing "Jeremiah was a bullfrog," from the Three Dog Night song "Joy to the World."

It seems to be an incongruent blend of imagery and people, but no one appears uncomfortable.

"I have definitely noticed the people doing the work across the creek coming and discovering the place for themselves," said Chuck Carpenter, who with his wife, Stephanie, are executive directors of Holden Village.

"This is a time of renewal. Because of our efforts or despite our efforts — we have seen that with the Forest Service, with Rio Tinto, the stressful strife that can be — that relationships are really key," he added.

"I don't know how often you have a huge mining company really getting along well and working cooperatively at something that they are, granted, ordered to do. But they are not cutting corners."

On hiatus

The village has had to hit the pause button in one sense during this time of remediation.

For the last 51 years, Holden has welcomed more than 200,000 people. Some come to the religious retreat to stay for a week, for a few months, for a few years. Some arrive as children, return as parents, and come back again as grandparents.

"We have all denominations," said Stephanie Carpenter. "We have atheists who say God does not exist enjoying this place."

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