One day after thousands of onlookers had gathered to watch monuments to this valley’s mining legacy crumble, life definitely seemed different.
“We drove home in the dark last night, and for the first time in 20 years, I felt disoriented,” teacher Marilyn Mangum said Monday while raking fresh grass clippings from her Kellogg lawn.
Even sleep was fitful. Her family used to nod off to the warning lights on four Bunker Hill smokestacks blinking against the night sky through bedroom windows.
But dynamite blasts brought the stacks down Sunday as part of a cleanup of mining contamination. “I guess I have to buy night lights,” Mangum said.
As Shoshone County residents began growing accustomed Monday to a skyline unbroken by smelter smokestacks, the new vista inspired vastly different reactions.
Some residents viewed the stacks’ demise as the official end of a once-in-a-lifetime era of plenty. Nothing more.
But others saw in their demise the fertile ground needed to root a struggling economic rebirth in the depressed mountain valley.
“It’s an attention-getter, a sign of progress,” said Rose Breazeal, a broker with Tomlinson Silver Valley Realty in Kellogg. “It makes us more attractive for tourists or businesses.”
Since the stacks quit belching smoke in the early 1980s, many in the Kellogg area have pinned their economic hopes on recreation, tourism and small business. The stacks, some say, got in the way.
“Western towns are born with a meal ticket, and that’s geography - sort of their natural talent,” said Cliff Marshall, an organizer for Sunday’s demolition. “Aesthetics are paramount to attracting business.”
Monday, the stacks - the largest one 715 feet tall - lay pulverized atop Bunker Hill’s slag pile, little more than broken pieces and so much concrete powder. In coming days, they’ll be ground down to rubble and buried on site.
“We never thought anything of the stacks because we’re used to it,” Breazeal said. “But when people from outside the area hear ‘smelter,’ they cringe. Much of that is now gone.”
But Greg Babin, who spent Monday touring old mines and taking a $15 helicopter tour over the demolition site, said communities can’t deny their roots.
“These mines brought a lot of wealth here, a lot of which ended up in Spokane,” he said. “It’s a shame to think of all those good-paying jobs being replaced by $4.25-an-hour jobs.”
And Roger Mangum said there was even beauty in the stacks and the livelihoods they symbolized. But he recognized that view was often disputed.
While on a recent trip to Red Mountain Ski Area with a group of teenagers, Mangum passed an industrial area that reminded him of home.
“The kids screamed ‘pollution’ and I said ‘dollars,”’ he said. “They just don’t realize what this place used to be when it had its million-dollar paycheck.”
Lee Summers, who remembers the boom years, videotaped all three television stations’ coverage of Sunday’s explosions as keepsakes. Back at work Monday washing windows at Kellogg’s Hallmark store, she said further cleanup can only help the economy.
With Interstate 90 bringing drivers through its heart every day, Kellogg could become a better drawing card for skiers and shoppers. Cleanup likely will improve the view of the valley for skiers riding Silver Mountain Ski Area’s gondola.
“Bunker Hill put a lot of kids through college,” she said, frowning. But “if you’ve ridden the gondola lately, you know it’s awful ugly up there.”
, DataTimes MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition.
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