Kellogg's Second Chance

This week's Sunday Scribbling's prompt is Second Chance.

Special thanks to my daughter and her partner for the research they did on the reforestation of the Silver Valley that can be viewed here.

My hometown is getting a second chance.

Kellogg, Idaho is part of an area known as the Silver Valley, located in north Idaho along Interstate 90.

This is one of the “final frontiers” to be discovered and pioneered in the United States. For many years it was home to the Schitsu'umsh, the Native American tribe who lived off the land and resided along its many lakes and rivers. See more about the tribe here.

Then the Jesuit Missionaries or “Black Robes” came at the request of the tribe, and built The Cataldo Mission, to help convert the tribe to Christianity. More on the mission and the Black Robes here and here.

From 1858 to 1862, Captain John Mullan constructed a military road from Fort Walla Walla on the Columbia River in Washington to Fort Benton, on the Missouri River, in Montana. This Military Road cut right through what is now the Silver Valley, and went right by the Cataldo Mission.

But it was a rough road to travel, so it didn’t get a lot of traffic, until a prospector named Andrew Pritchard made a discovery of gold on Prichard Creek on the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, which started the Murray Gold Rush in 1883.

Thousand flocked to the find their riches, including a man named Noah Kellogg. Kellogg decided to due some exploring on his own, and headed over the mountain down to the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River where, as rumor has it, his jackass was mesmerized by an outcropping of galena on the side of the hill. Whatever the true story is, Noah Kellogg discovered the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mining Company in 1885. This discovery eventually made Kellogg a mining boom town.

But with mining booms come some harmful effects to the environment. Trees on the hillsides were cut down to provide logs for homes, and timbers to help support the mine tunnels. Soon, the once green hillsides were barren.

In 1917, Bunker Hill constructed a smelter to help melt down the ore and separate the minerals. Sulfuric acid, zinc oxide, phosphate fertilizers, lead, arsenic, cadmium and zinc were the main contaminants from the smelters. These gases from the smelting process, if released into the air, would cause air that was greatly polluted. Because of the contaminants in the air, over 80 percent of the trees were contaminated and could not grow back, because when the pollution, or “smelter smoke” combined with water and clung to the newly formed cones on the trees, it created a condition similar to pouring car battery acid on the cones, and they could not survive.

In 1973, the Bunker Hill Company hired Ed Pommerening to help revegetate the barren hillsides and return them to their original state. It looked as if Kellogg may get a second chance.

But then Kellogg was dealt a big economic blow in 1981. The Bunker Hill Mining Company was closed down, and over 2100 jobs were lost with a $50 million annual payroll. Things looked bleak for this small town that had always relied on “Uncle Bunker” to see them through.

As part of his revegitation process, Pommerening developed an underground greenhouse in one of the tunnels in the Bunker Hill Mine and grew seedlings what were then planted each spring by high school and college students. During the periods of 1975-1982 and 1991-1993, youth throughout the Silver Valley could be found working hard planting trees in the steep, barren terrain of Shoshone County. In the summer, Pommerening was responsible for hiring thirty 16 to 18 year old youth to plant trees. Each person was responsible for planting 200 trees per day.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, moved into the area in 1985. Gulf Resources & Chemical Corp., the last owners of Bunker Hill, were ordered by the EPA to pay for extensive environmental studies. Asarco, Hecla Mining Co., Sunshine Mining Co., and Coeur d' Alene Mines were also charged with the responsibility and costs of replacing contaminated dirt. Kellogg soon became the largest Superfund Site in the United States.

By the end of 1993, Pommerening and his crew were responsible for planting 2.8 million trees amongst 5,000 acres. The hills throughout the Silver Valley that once looked like large dirt mounds have significantly changed. Today there are many species that can be found in the green hills of Kellogg. Ponderosa Pine, White Pine, Quaking Aspen, Ocean Spray, Cyanosis, Snow Berry and grasses flourish throughout the reforested area.

Pommerening’s biggest accomplishment was the survival rate of the trees. When he began the reforestation project he hoped the survival rate of the trees would be 50 percent. What amazed him and others was 80 to 90 percent of the trees survived and are growing healthy today.

The EPA has remediated almost every homeowner’s yard in Kellogg, replacing contaminated dirt with uncontaminated dirt. (Well, some residents wouldn’t agree, because much of the dirt was so contaminated with weeds, that it has been a problem ever since. Our yard is a good example. Our yard was one of the few in the town that didn’t have a high measure of contaminates, so it wasn’t remediated. We hardly have any dandelions in our yard. For most residents in our subdivision, they are infested with them. Most people agree…they were given weedy dirt.)

Kellogg has now been discovered as a year round tourist destination with Silver Mountain Ski Resort in the winter, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes for bike riding, as well as many other recreational opportunities.

Because of the reforested hillsides, Kellogg is slowly being restored to the original beauty the Schitsu'umsh once appreciated when the lived along the banks of the Coeur d’Alene River. Wetlands are springing forth on this former marshy area, wildlife is returning to the hills, and fish are now being seen in the once milky white river that flows through town.

I marvel at the hillsides of my youth, and how well the earth can regenerate itself when the pollution and contaminates are gone, and nature can run its course.

It is truly a miracle.


Pinehurst in my Dreams said...

Clap, clap, clap. Bravo!

Crafty Green Poet said...

This is fascinating and hopeful history - i love reforestation stories!

Crafty Green Poet said...

In fact this would be an ideal post to share with Festival of the Trees. To find out more visit: https://festivalofthetrees.wordpress.com/

myrtle beach whale said...

I will never forget the sign made of tires on the barren, brown, hillside above Sunnyside, "Keep Idaho Green," it said. Over thirty years later, that hillside is, in fact, green.

Pinehurst in my Dreams said...

LOL - Yes, the tire slogan. It should have said, "R hils R grene N thez wite trash) tars R cool."

thefirecat said...

After three years in Brooklyn, moving to Spokane at 21 and camping in the panhandle saved my life. I'm glad we're returning the favour.

sage said...

thanks for the story--I don't know much about mining in the panhandle, I've spent some time in the mining areas in the southern part of Idaho and in other western states. Good "Second Chance" scribblings

Silver Valley Girl said...

Crafty green poet--Thanks for the suggestion for festival of trees. I did submit.

Myrtle Beach Whale and Pinehurst--Ah yes, the Keep Idaho Green tires. Who could forget. I'm glad it was a sort of self fullfilling prophesy for that hillside.

the firecat--Wow, I would love to hear more of your story about moving to this area, and how it saved you.

sage--glad you liked my post.

Frances said...

Neat scribble - great take on the topic.
And I learned about a new Indian tribe too.
Look forward to visiting next week.