Leaders scramble to save Hill Annex Mine State Park

Rep. Julie Sandstede (DFL-Hibbing), with Itasca County Commissioner Ben DeNucci, presents a bill to the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee earlier this month. Her bill would keep Hill Annex Mine State Park open while creating a comprehensive plan and feasibility study to transition management from the DNR to a local partnership. (PHOTO: submitted)

Hill Annex Mine State Park is surely an oddity among state recreational facilities. You can’t camp there. Virtually every natural feature you see emerged from the wholly unnatural act of removing iron ore from the ground. Nevertheless, the Calumet, Minnesota, park represents a glimpse back into time, and provides important context to what happens to landscapes affected by mining, both good and bad.

But Hill Annex faces an uncertain future. For one thing, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources can’t afford to keep it open as a park. It doesn’t produce enough revenue or interest. For another, the park sits on iron ore, the dark blue-gray wonderstone that led to its very existence.

Last November, the state announced that something would have to give. Local leaders sought a new purpose and a new management structure for the park.

This spring, an Iron Range legislator proposed a bill to aid this process.

“The folks in our region have worked extremely hard to come up with a solution that preserves this park, which has great educational, historical, cultural and scientific value,” Rep. Julie Sandstede (DFL-Hibbing) said in a statement. “Some people visit the park to learn about our rich mining traditions, while others visit to explore the fossils and other geological features. This is all worth protecting.”

Under Sandstede’s bill, the state would fund $150,000 of one-time funding for Itasca County to develop a local agreements to operate the park while defining project goals and identifying future funding sources. The new local partnership would take over management from the DNR. The working group also recommended a major marketing campaign to promote the park and raise awareness of its unique, one of a kind qualities.

“This bill is the ‘peace in the valley’ solution all parties involved support,” Rep. Sandstede told the committee.

The park sits on School Trust Lands and eventually could become an active mining site again. Experts value the tailings alone on the site at $43 million. The Hill Annex Mine closed in 1978. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. In 1988, the state designated it as a state park. Buildings and mining equipment remain on the site. Additionally, fossils – which formed 86 million years ago when the area was still covered by sea – can be found on the site, including sharks’ teeth.

Hill Annex has always lived with the reality that mining could return. But until it does, Hill Annex represents one of the few mining-related educational sites on the western Mesabi Range. Meanwhile, the fossil research has actually been as important to the park’s traffic as the mining history.

Sandstede’s bill remains in the hopper. She seeks to add it to an omnibus bill later this session.


  1. Jutta Schultz says

    WE have wanted to go and do the fossil tour but the hours are so limited that we have never been able to go on that tour. Expanded tour hours would be really nice for those of us who cannot be there on Saturday mornings…it has been a major frustration for us. We have stopped there several times, but it always seems like it is closing every time we get there.

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