Turning the Old West into the New West

  • Old Works Golf Course, built over Anaconda's Superfund site

    Old Works Golf Course

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

ANACONDA, Mont. - Until this town got involved, mine reclamation was fairly dull. You could say, reclamation lacked imagination. No flair.

Then Anaconda, a town that rose and fell on the smelting of ore from the mines in nearby Butte, got the idea of taking a lifeless, sulfur-colored dump and turning it into a designer golf course (HCN, 9/5/94).

"The first of its kind," says Sandy Stash, Montana facilities manager for ARCO, the mining company doing huge Superfund cleanups in Anaconda and Butte. Never before has a Superfund site been "redeveloped" into another use, Stash says.

To qualify for Superfund, a piece of ground has to be ruined, and the ground under the golf course certainly was. The 220 acres had been covered with tailings seven feet deep beginning in the late 1800s, when Anaconda's smelter complex was the world's largest. Since then, the ground had also been an illegal town dump for everything from animal carcasses to broken refrigerators.

Once the last smelter shut down in 1980, something had to be done to clean up the mess, and Anaconda's leadership saw it as an opportunity. ARCO, which is spending $100 million on reclamation in Anaconda, went along with the creative impulse, allocating $20 million of the total to install the Old Works Golf Course atop the tailings. Celebrity golfer Jack Nicklaus got $1 million to design the course - the only course in Montana with that claim to fame.

The Old Works course opened last spring and raked in $1.2 million from golfers and tourists in the five-month playing season. People from as far away as Florida stopped in. Restaurants, motels and other businesses around town also cashed in on the traffic.

Mel Stokke, who worked in the smelter for 32 years and was its last general manager, dusted off an old set of golf clubs and became a regular.

"It's a tough course," says Stokke. "No doubt the toughest course in Montana. Quite impressive."

The course winds between piles of slag (a black smelter waste that's stabilized) and other smelter remnants, including two huge ladles that were planted with yellow and red pansies to symbolize molten metal. The sand traps are also black slag.

A few problems arose with the irrigation system and a liner that keeps surface water from flowing into the tailings, which still underlie the course. But all in all, Charlie Coleman, the EPA's project manager for the site, told the Montana Standard, "Environmentally, I'd have to give it an A."

Stash says, now that the golf course has taken reclamation in a whole new direction, her company "wants to do more of this. We're building a recreation complex on another Superfund site, in Butte."