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Mine remediation changes life at Holden

By Mary Stamp

The serenity of Holden Village, the spiritual retreat center in the remote Northern Cascade Mountains and Okanogan National Forest, is being interrupted by rumbles and scraping of heavy equipment reshaping mine tailings and diverting runoff to clean up environmental contamination in this former mining town.

Chuck and Stephanie Carpenter
Stephanie and Chuck Carpenter

Each week, contractors for the mining company, Rio Tinto, are bringing three to five barge loads of heavy equipment to open gravel quarries, and to blast and haul rocks, said co-directors Chuck and Stephanie Carpenter. 

Given the disruption expected in the Lutheran retreat ministry for the next three years, the Holden Village Board decided to send Holden programs on the road and to upgrade village infrastructure and historical buildings.  The structures were built in 1937 when copper, gold and silver mining began in Copper Peak.

The Howe Sound Holden Mine operated until 1957, when it no longer was financially viable.  The 55 miles of tunnels in the mountain are now filled with acidic water that seeps heavy metals into ground water and Railroad Creek, which flows 11 miles to Lake Chelan.

Chuck described the conditions and the remediation plans.

 The tailings, powder from rock crushed at a mill to extract copper, silver and gold, cover 80 acres 100-feet-deep at a 50-degree angle above the creek.

After the $100-to-200-million dollar mine remediation, water in the mine will be captured and directed to a new treatment plant, which will remove contaminants before it is discharged into the environment.

Holden Village Construction
Mining Company, Rio Tinto, will have crews cleaning up mining tailings for two summers.

Tailings will be graded to decrease the slope and a wall will be built down to the bedrock beside the tailings to prevent them from collapsing into the creek and to direct water to the treatment plant.  The tailings will be capped with two feet of gravel, seeded and reforested.

The remediation area is one mile long by half a mile wide, 200 feet across the creek from Holden Village. 

When the mine was at its peak, about 600 people lived in Holden, then a modern village with dormitories, chalets and private homes.  When copper prices fell, the village was abandoned. 

In 1960, Wes Prieb, a student at Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) in Seattle, had learned the company was asking $100,000 for it.  He suggested it would be a good site for the LBI or the church to use.  The company gave it to LBI.

About 50 years ago, the nonprofit Holden Village, Inc., formed and began to reclaim village structures.  It has a special-use permit to lease the land from the U.S. Forest Service. 

Stephanie said Holden’s vision of renewal melds with the mine remediation, which began with studies in 1995.

“Our values of ecology, place and being good stewards of this valley and this world support the clean up of waste and heavy metals left from the mining era,” said Stephanie.

Construction and programming skills Chuck and Stephanie bring mesh with the unique time for Holden Village, as it sends summer programs on the road from New York to California to accommodate for construction on the mine and village.

Holden will be closed to guests for two seasons.  Winter will be a normal season.  On site, spring, summer and fall will be construction seasons, drawing volunteers for work projects.

Holden Village
Holden Village program will go on the road for two years while mine remediation and renovation of the Village take place.

Usually Holden, which is accessible by a boat ride halfway up Lake Chelan and an 11-mile winding road, hosts more than 6,000 guests and volunteers, plus a staff of 100 to 150 each summer.

This summer, about 400 will be onsite, including the 200-member remediation crew, that Holden will house and feed.

Volunteers and staff will work to replace the water main, sewer system and wildfire sprinkler system.  Drinking water comes from glacial runoff above the mine remediation site.

Off the grid and powered by hydro generators, Holden carefully plans and limits energy consumption.  From May through September, generators produce up to 300 kilowatts.  In the winter, they produce down to 40 kilowatts, so the village burns wood to heat water, the chalets and lodges.  The village also recycles and composts.  Otherwise, what comes up the hill must go back down.

The buildings need new porches, roofs, insulation, remodeling and new lighting to improve efficiency, Chuck said..  Because it is a historic landmark, remodeling has to follow guidelines for preservation.

Another summer project for Holden guests and volunteers will be week-long work camps on the Pacific Crest Trail, beyond the several miles they already maintain.  Two staff will take teams each week to do the work and engage in Bible study, worship and discussions.

The Carpenters have been directors since 2010.  They came to Holden five years before that.

Both Chuck, who grew up Presbyterian, and Stephanie, who grew up Lutheran, earned liberal arts degrees in 1990, he from the University of Minnesota and she from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.  They met at the Wilderness Canoe Base in Northern Minnesota, where he worked six years and she four years before they married.  They spent several more years there.

Before coming to Holden, Chuck worked five years working on construction near their small family farm in Minnesota.

Because Holden is among the Lutheran outdoor ministries programs, the Carpenters had met people who encouraged them to go there. 

When Holden needed to remodel a building, they came for a year as volunteers.  The operations manager position opened, and Chuck was hired.

Being in a remote area, Holden has one of Washington’s “remote and necessary” K-12 public schools—a three-room school with two teachers.  Their children, August, 15, and Cailan, 18, have attended it.  Cailan spent her senior year in Minnesota and begins at St. Olaf College this fall.

Over the 50 years, thousands of different people have come through Holden Village.  Coming involves a journey with at least three modes of transportation, so it’s like a pilgrimage, said Chuck. 

“Among Holden’s core values are inclusion, hilarity, play, ecology and stewardship,” said Stephanie. 

People come to experience community, and to reflect and regain perspective and encouragement.

Although there’s no phone service—only an emergency satellite phone—it’s connected to the world by email.  It is also connected as it receives people from the world and sends them back energized to do what they are called to do, Stephanie said.

While people of all faiths or no faith come, they agree to join in worship every day.

“Being removed from the daily routine opens people to explore their faith, rest in it and affirm it,” she said.

For Chuck, the community process develops relationships as people worship together and allow themselves to be in God’s and each other’s presence.  

“When our human brokenness stands in our way, we break bread together, reconcile, and are born anew every day by God in the risen Christ,” he said.  “We recognize we are both saints and sinners.”

Stephanie said people bring the baggage of the world.  In the wilderness and in community, that baggage is exposed. 

She looks forward to partnering with other outdoor ministry sites around the United States for programs through “Holden on the Road.”  She and other staff will go to different sites.

On site, Chuck and his team will work with the mining company, the forest service, the Chelan ranger, the Department of Ecology, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Yakama Tribe. 

Given the shared vision and cooperative effort of the agencies, mining company and contractors, he hopes that as they mingle in the village of the spiritual retreat center, they will experience transformation as others who come there do.

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Copyright © June 2013 - The Fig Tree