Posted by: csdailyblog | October 19, 2010

Conserve School Students Visit Historic Copper Mine

Julia, Erica, and Kira watch as their classmates rappel down a dark mine shaft during their Adventure Mine field trip.

Last week Science Teachers Robert Eady and Andrew Milbauer, along with Field Instructor Elliott Schofield, took students on a field trip to the Adventure Mine that combined local history, science, and some rappeling, too. The student body was split into two, so one group went Thursday afternoon and the other went Friday afternoon.

Andy Milbauer writes:

Last Thursday and Friday, Conserve students enjoyed a tour of the historic Adventure Mine, an old copper mine in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This part of the United States is one of two places where people can mine native copper, which is copper that is over 90% pure. The other place where they mine native copper is in Bolivia, but those deposits are much smaller. During the tour students learned about mining methods from the first Americans to the modern approaches. We also discussed health risks and working conditions in the mines. The guides explained wages for miners throughout the period when the mine was open. Perhaps one of the more impressive moments happened when the guides had us shut off our headlamps so we could see the light intensity of the mine in the same way it was illuminated by the first miners, with a single candle. To demonstrate safety, the guide extinguished the candle and, as we all stood in complete darkness, explained how miners would need to sit in the dark, waiting for a rescue.

Earlier in the week, staff and students had prepared for the field trip by watching a moving documentary about current-day child mine workers in Bolivia, who, sadly,  toil in antiquated and dangerous conditions much like those in the Adventure Mine when it was first in operation. The film, The Devil’s Miner, was shown on PBS several years ago, and you can read more  about it on the PBS website. The danger and drama of mining was, of course, underscored as well by the rescue of the Chilean miners.

Mining continues at present in the Upper Peninsula and is often controversial: some see the mines as a critical source of income in an economically depressed area, while others focus on the environmental damage caused by mines. A Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal article from a few years ago provides some background on the ongoing conflict. Conserve School borders the Upper Peninsula — Conserve School students can stand with one foot in Michigan and one foot in Wisconsin — so these conflicts are literally right in our backyard.

Planning and conducting a field trip like this is quite a production — so thank you to the staff members who made this happen, and thank you to the students, who, as always, approached the opportunity with great enthusiasm.

Mary Anna

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