Sure, you've taken your kids to Kennecott's open pit mine in Bingham Canyon and stared down into that humongous hole in the ground, but if you really want to give them a thrill, start planning a trip to the original Kennecott, the Alaska mining town that started it all.
Thanks to an 11-year effort on the part of The Friends of Kennicott, Kennecott Minerals Co., The Conservation Fund and the National Park Service, among others, the old mining complex in south-central Alaska and its historic buildings - many of them perserved exactly as they were when the mill closed 60 years ago - will still be there for generations to come.On Tuesday, the Kennecott mill town and 2,285 acres of surrounding land became part of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the nation's largest park, located some 200 miles east of Anchorage and one of the few parks in Alaska accessible by road.
The deal was closed when the owners of the surface land, Great Kennicott Land Co. and Consolidated Wrangell Mining Co., donated the four major historic buildings at the site, including the 14-story mill building, the central focus of the Kennecott complex.
The two companies then sold the acreage to the Park Service for $3 million and Salt Lake-based Kennecott Minerals Co. donated 3,097 acres of subsurface mineral rights to the property along with the ownership of the Kennecott cemetery.
"Kennecott Minerals really stepped up to the plate to help make this happen," said Brad A. Meiklejohn, the Anchorage-based Alaska representative of The Conservation Fund, in a phone interview.
"They went in during the early '90s and spent about $3 million to clean up some asbestos, oil in storage tanks and other environmental problems that would have kept the Park Service from taking it on. And they (Kennecott) did it in advance, without anyone requiring them to do so."
Congress appropriated funding to buy the land last year following efforts by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska..
It was the profits from the highly successful Alaska mine between 1911 and 1938 that provided the funding for Kennecott to buy the Bingham Canyon property and launch the Utah Copper Division.
Meiklejohn said visitors to Kennecott usually head out from Anchorage, an eight-hour drive on a dusty dirt road.
"Once you get there, you feel like you've gone back in time 90 years. The buildings are in pretty good shape thanks to the cold, dry climate. There are files and medicines in the infirmary, plates on the shelves, sheets on the beds, dishes in the cupboards. They just locked the doors and walked away."
That's because in 1938, when Kennecott closed down operations in the face of low copper prices and declining reserves, it had every intention of reopening the mine when conditions improved. But that never happened and Kennecott remained a ghost town for decades.
In 1957, the surface property and buildings were sold to an individual who then sold to Consolidated Wrangell in 1964. The surrounding land became a park in 1980 and the mine complex a National Historic Landmark in 1986. In 1990, Kennecott was listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the 10 most endangered sites in the country.
The nearest town to Kennecott is McCarthy, about four miles away. It dates back to the early mining days when Meiklejohn says it served as a "red light district" for the miners. Today, the town has about 100 residents and its motels and restaurants serve as a base for some 20,000 people who visit the area each year.
Although the building are in surprisingly good shape, many will now be "stabilized," but Meiklejohn said complete restoration is not currently an option due to lack of funds.