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Eagle Scout project brings mine view to public

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An Eagle Scout project in Jacksonville’s Forest Park will give visitors a look into a mine that likely dates from the 1800s.

Scout Randall Ridge coordinated the project that removed dirt from the mine’s opening, reconstructed a wooden entrance way, and included a display of mining artifacts along with two interpretative panels describing mining activities.

“I’m very interested in history. It’s my favorite subject. I feel like that’s what made the project so exciting to me,” said Ridge. “If someone else did it, it would be something I’d go to.”

Ridge is a member of Medford’s Troop 5 and a junior at Crater High School. Scouts from the troop, leaders and parents, his own family and the park rangers all assisted Ridge and put in more than 400 hours of work.

“Digging was the meat of the project,” said Ridge. About 6 to 8 cubic yards of dirt were removed, Park Ranger Tony Hess estimated. Crews had to work with iron rods to break up the material. After miners removed their wooden entrance, dirt had filled the opening and hardened for more than 100 years.

City officials needed to close the entrance for safety reasons after people were observed squeezing through a 12-by-36-inch hole. A metal gate now blocks the entrance to the mine but a motion sensor light illuminates the area where old miner relics, including a dynamite box, shovels, a wheel barrow and other items, are displayed. Ridge used salvaged wood for the entrance to give it a historical appearance.

“We wanted something that people could look through and see into the mine,” said Hess. The site is located on the Ol’ Miners’ Trail.

The excavation, a horizontal boring known as an adit, goes approximately 235 feet into the mountain and followed a quartz vein. Gold is contained within quartz and can be removed for processing outside the shaft, said Hess, who had a career as a mining exploration contractor.

“It was a significant mine. There’s a lot of what we call glory holes (in the park),” said Hess. Glory holes go a just little way and are abandoned when they don’t pay off. This mine is from five to six feet tall and six feet wide, indicating it paid off for a long time, he said. A pile of rock without quartz at the far end of the adit indicates that the vein ended.

“This was definitely a small mining operation, maybe a couple guys got in there and they got the gold and quartz out and left,” said Hess.

Searches through government agency records could not determine the mine’s owner, said Gary Sprague, a park ranger.

The site was likely privately owned initially, and may have become Jackson County property when the owner didn’t pay taxes, Hess speculates. It may have become city land for the watershed when the city erected a dam for its own water supply in 1911. A decade ago, the city designated the watershed land as Forest Park, and volunteers have developed an extensive trail system, visitor amenities and historical features.

“Sometimes mines are on very unusable ground. There isn’t any timber in this. It’s in very solid rock, so there’s not any cave-ins,” said Hess. Miners would use sledge hammers and hand-held bits to cut holes into the rock in order to place blasting powder to loosen the quartz.

Two larger successful mining operators were located nearby. The Nordling Mine is in Forest Park. The Op Mine, which had about 1.5 miles of underground tunnels, according to Hess, is on land adjacent to Reservoir Road on the drive into the park.

Ridge needs to complete paperwork on the project and submit it to the Crater Lake Boy Scout Council, which will then convene a board of review before awarding Eagle Scout status. He has been in scouting for nine years.

“This was a heck of a Scout project. It was probably twice as big as normal. It was a lot of work,” said Sprague. Several other Eagle Scout projects have been completed in the park.

Forest Park is located up Reservoir Road, which turns off from Highway 238 one mile west of Jacksonville. Park rangers are all volunteers who have developed the 1,080-acre park since 2007 with assistance from the city’s Public Works Department.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Clayton Gillette works on the entrance to Handsome Mine off a trail at Forest Park in Jacksonville.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune The entrance of Handsome Mine at Forest Park in Jacksonville.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Clayton Gillette points out quartz in the wall of Handsome Mine at Forest Park in Jacksonville.