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DNR: Abolish Hill Annex Mine State Park to allow for iron ore mining

Hill Annex Mine State Park in Calumet.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Hill Annex Mine State Park in Calumet.

As part of its annual lands bill, the DNR proposed Hill Annex lose its status as a state park, which was always the plan.

CALUMET — Hill Annex Mine State Park in Calumet isn’t like other state parks. There’s no camping, trails or chats around the campfire.

The park’s origin is also unique. It was an active mine for over 60 years and one of the largest iron ore producers in the state. After mining ended in 1978, it was sold to the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board for $1. The IRRRB started the tour and museum aspects, and by 1991, Hill Annex Mine was a state park under the control of the Department of Natural Resources.

But it was never meant to remain a park. Bob Meier, Department of Natural Resources assistant commissioner, said the mine was almost intended to reopen when it became economically feasible again. He said that’s what’s happening now, as two mining projects have been proposed and are currently under review.

Legislation introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate as part of the DNR’s annual lands bill would abolish Hill Annex Mine State Park. Both bills have been referred to committees.

Meier said there is support from the region and local legislators, though others may be concerned.

“I would think it would just be a kneejerk reaction by some people,” he said. “Not fully understanding the history of this facility, thinking that we’re just abolishing a park to create mining opportunities.”

Doug Learmont, coordinator of the Western Mesabi Mine Planning Board, said the DNR has not yet contacted the Board. The organization, made up of western Iron Range cities, has prioritized the state park’s viability for several years, Meier said, though that was always with the understanding that mining would return eventually.

Learmont said one of the concerns may be that the park status is removed prematurely. A company may receive permits, but that doesn’t always mean mining will begin any time soon.

“Other than some things at [Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park], it’s the only state park in Minnesota that has any mining or mining culture-type educational materials in it,” Learmont said. “So from that standpoint, you really don’t like to lose it, unless somebody really is planning to mine it in the near future.”

Megan Buffington joined the KAXE newsroom in 2024 after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Originally from Pequot Lakes, she is passionate about educating and empowering communities through local reporting.