MOAB — Work to close off a little more than two dozen mines at a canyon popular for recreation in southern Utah is expected to begin next month, state mining officials said Monday.
In all, about 29 mines at Mineral Canyon in Grand County west of Moab will be closed off as a part of the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program. The project, which will be conducted in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management, is expected to begin in early April and be completed in about three weeks, according to officials from the state division.
The canyon was the site of uranium and vanadium mines beginning in the mid-1950s, according to the state agency. In a statement Monday, Hollie Brown, the spokesperson for the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, said that the BLM field office in Moab had identified Mineral Canyon as a "high priority" for abandoned mines. Brown said it's because it's a popular recreation spot, especially in the Mineral Bottom area.
"Mineral Bottom accesses Canyonlands National Park (White Rim Trail), Green River boat ramp, campground, and airstrip," she wrote. "Mineral Canyon's Fruit Bowl area, located on a rim above the canyon, is used for highlining and base jumping. Mineral Bottom also provides a designated area for highlining, BASE jumping, and parachuting events in the Canyon/Horsethief BASE Jumping Focus Area."
Not all mines will be closed off in the same fashion. Crews will use metal grates, machine backfills and native stone or block walls to close off the abandoned mines. Every mine will be closed off in a way that's "designed to protect features of historic significance and animal habitat, while protecting the public from injuries or death," Brown added.
Abandoned mines across Utah and in the West have been viewed as safety risks and possible health hazards. The state began its program to close unused mines with the Utah Mined Reclamation Act in 1975, which made it illegal for mines to be abandoned; however, it's been a long process to identify and close all of the state's mines.
For example, the Associated Press reported in 2018 that Utah was seeking to seal over 10,000 open mines at that point. Officials said the open mines posed serious risks for safety in remote areas. At least 10 people were killed in abandoned mines between 1983 and 2011, according to KSL TV.
The Deseret News reported last year that there were about 260,000 estimated mines in 13 Western states with a BLM estimate of about 500 years to complete an inventory of all of the mines in the West. The report came after the Gold King Mine lawsuit settlement included a provision for the Environmental Protection Agency to begin assessments of other mines in Utah.
The Mineral Canyon project won't close off recreation after it begins. Brown wrote recreators should expect "increased" truck traffic and other heavy equipment especially by the Horse Thief Trail portion of Mineral Canyon Road while the project is underway.
The project was funded by grants from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, as well as the BLM and U.S. Department of Energy.