The lure of copper goes back 7,000 years as native people dug 60 foot deep holes through solid rock to extract this metal for use in bracelets, beads, spears, tools, fishhooks, and other trade items. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan was a region where riches could be discovered for those willing to withstand the harsh conditions and remote frontier. It was this rich history that was the starting point for our study of mining in the region.
Along the way, we looked at the work of the great environmentalist, David Brower, as he spars with mineralogist Charles Park over the need to extract minerals from the earth. We also looked at local issues including the proposed copper-sulfide mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area that could possibly pollute those pristine waters.
To give the students a sense of how mining worked back in the 19th century we took a field trip to explore the remnants of The Norwich Mine which operated in the remote wilderness just south of Lake Superior from 1847 to 1858. The experience provided an excellent opportunity to understand how these miners struggled to pull copper from the earth.
In the end, we asked ourselves if we are willing to alter our own lifestyles to stop tearing up the earth in a search for valuable metals. It is a tough question and one worth pondering when we look at environmental issues.