Topeka An area of the state that was once mined for its lead and zinc deposits to fuel industrial production more than a century ago is getting a new life and purpose.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is purchasing some 700 acres in southeast Kansas that will be used for public recreation. Funding comes through a federal program that seeks to clean up contaminants left by 150 years of mining and smelting.
Members of the State Finance Council approved purchasing the land at $640 per acre in the Neosho River basin in Cherokee, Crawford, Labette and Neosho counties. The funds were from settlements with the companies that were responsible for the mining through the National Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration program.
“You’re getting this for a nice price,” said Gov. Sam Brownback, chairman of the council.
Lance Hedges, public lands supervisor in southeastern Kansas for the Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Department, said the land includes prairie, wetlands and other bodies of water that will be used for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. It will be managed by existing state staff in the region.
Hedges said the purchase of the land also helps lakes downstream from the Neosho, including Grand Lake in Oklahoma, by controlling drainage and what eventually ends up in the channel.
“It’s projects like this that will help,” he said. “It meets a lot of our goals.”
The Mined Land Wildlife Area covers some 14,500 acres, predominantly in Cherokee County, located near the old mining town of West Mineral. There are more than 1,500 acres of water for fishing. The 200 bodies of water are up to 50 acres in size and are found near Cherokee, Columbus, Oswego, Pittsburg, Scammon and West Mineral.
Strip mining played itself out as a viable industry in the 1960s and 1970s, leaving behind vast stretches of land scarred by the digging and the harmful heavy metals exposed when the coal was removed.
Federal regulations required the land to be restored and the environmental hazards to be remediated, a process that is ongoing in Cherokee County, including the town of Treece along the Oklahoma border.
The area was developed for recreational opportunities after mining operations ceased in the region. Deep strip pits left by surface mining were stocked with a variety of fish, including bass, crappie and trout.
Leo Henning of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said the land being purchased didn’t have any contamination on it from mining operations and has been returned to its native vegetative state. Nine companies have been in settlement talks over mining contamination, with two companies reaching agreements. Money collected is used for rehabilitating it for natural and public use.
“This is the first property to come up with that action. The land is not contaminated,” Henning said.
He said the property was already under a restricted use easement, which reduced its value and enabled the state to purchase it at the low rate.