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Does beauty lie beneath the surface?

A Grants Pass area resident wants to mine sulfur-enriched clay mineral left after Mount Mazama blew its top 7,700 years ago for use as a potential beauty product or health aid.

Ray Huckaba has filed a plan of operation with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest to excavate and test a thick deposit of the mineral known as epithermal argillite from the Wizard Island No. 2 mine about 18 miles north of Prospect.

"Some of the things he mentioned to us that he wants to use it for would be as a beauty products and for medicinal purposes," said Kerwin Dewberry, ranger in charge of the High Cascades Ranger District. "To have someone looking at this mineral for a beauty product or a health aid is very interesting."

Preliminary research has shown the material may have anti-bacterial properties, officials said.

As a result of Huckaba's application, the district has launched what is known as a scoping process under the auspices of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The 30-day public comment period on the proposed operating plan ends Saturday, July 21.

The site is in the Foster Creek drainage, about six miles north of Union Creek in the High Cascades District at the 4,500-foot elevation.

Huckaba, who could not be reached by the Mail Tribune for comment for this article, said in his operations plan he wants to remove and test some 20,000 cubic yards from the site. About 31/2; acres of the 5-acre mining site already have been cleared of vegetation by previous mining activities.

The five-month operating season would be from June 1 to Nov. 1 for up to five years. Dump trucks would haul the material to White City, where it would be placed in a semitrailer and taken to a processing plant.

The material, part of a large deposit of sulfurized mineral created by volcanic action during the time when Mount Mazama erupted to create Crater Lake, contains naturally cooked sulfur, iron, silica and trace elements.

Huckaba originally filed a claim in the area in 1981. However, one of the first mining operations there was the Last Chance Mine, filed in 1904.

In the past, clay from the area has been offered as a soil additive and for making roofing tiles.

In his earlier mining project, Huckaba had an approved plan of operations, but it expired, explained Kevin Johnson, mining geologist for the Rogue River-Siskiyou and Fremont-Winema national forests.

"He had done some drilling and determined the zone where the clay is found," Johnson said during a recent visit to the site, the faint smell of sulfur wafting in the air. "He deposited the overburden over here to gain access to his clay."

Huckaba posted a bond and moved forward with a few truckloads, Johnson said.

"But the NEPA work that was done back in the day wasn't as thorough as the process is now," Johnson said.

If the clay were to be used for fill material, it would not be a permissable use under the 1872 Mining Law, he said.

"That would be a common-variety salable material; that someone would have to purchase from us under the Forest Service's discretionary authority," Johnson said. "If it is an uncommon variety, then it is subject to the mining law. That person owns that mineral and we don't have any discretion to deny them to try to develop that. They own it."

At this point, the agency is trying to determine whether the uses Huckaba has identified are subject to the mining law or the mineral materials act, Johnson said.

"Over the years he has identified a variety of products he wants to use this enriched clay for," Johnson said.

Johnson expects Huckaba to take out small volumes of material to develop a market for an uncommon use so it can be taken out under the 1872 mining law.

The mineral is the direct result of the Mount Mazama volcanic activity, Johnson said.

Huckaba has submitted a reclamation bond to restore the site once he has completed the mining project.

"The site will have to be rehabilitated when he is done," said Dewberry, who has a bachelor's degree in environmental sciences. "He would have to contour it back to its original state and revegetate it."

The point is to avoid causing any erosion problems that could pollute the watershed, he said.

Huckaba is working with the agency to make sure he abides by all regulations, Dewberry said.

Although Dewberry has been leading the scoping process, he won't be there for the final decision. He is being promoted to deputy forest supervisor for the Tonto National Forest in New Mexico. His last day on the Rogue River-Siskiyou will be Aug. 25.

"Whoever comes in after me as the acting district ranger will continue to work with Kevin and the mineral shop to move the process forward," Dewberry said.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Kerwin Dewberry, district ranger with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, crosses a pile of the sulfur-enriched clay extracted from the Wizard Island No. 2 mine about 18 miles north of Prospect. - Bob Pennell