The Enchantment of a Quarry Provides a Major Opportunity.
By Thomas J. Roach
Do you remember the first time you saw a quarry? I was 17 or 18 when Jani Viscomb walked me a few blocks from a friend’s house to the abandoned Richard Street quarry in Joliet, Ill. We stepped off the side of the road onto a damp dirt path. We passed the trespassing signs, pushed through the weed trees and underbrush, and suddenly a vast clearing opened up. Like a scene from Journey to the Center of the Earth, limestone cliffs and tiered platforms loomed over a primordial lake.
The dolomite in Joliet has a sandy texture and sheds a thin layer of its surface every year to the wind and rain, so it always has a fresh slightly yellow cast. The sheered rock glowed, and the still water sparkled in the strict sunlight. Overwhelmed, I considered the opening up of the earth, the incalculable hours of labor, and the close proximity to a street I had traveled all my life.
Jani, having grown up about a mile away on Manhattan Road, was unimpressed. My blasé tour guide recounted the urban myth that mining stopped when workers hit a spring, which filled the quarry with water and trapped a steam locomotive at the bottom. She walked me to a ledge where we shouted and listened to our echoing voices, and then we jumped in. I can still recall every second of a long fall into an Edenic womb.
Of course what we did was dangerous and illegal, but my point is that while people may resent mining operations, they are intrigued and even enchanted by quarries. What we often consider a potential public relations problem can sometimes be a public relations opportunity.
Quarries can provide the community a chance to explore local geography and history. They offer unique landscapes for photographers and artists. And when it is time to reclaim the land, they can provide recreational opportunities for children and adults.
While the Richard Street quarry in Joliet has been filled, in Williamson County, Texas, $1.8 million in bond money is being spent to turn their abandoned quarry into a water park with water slides, a climbing wall, a sand pit, and water cannons.
In New Zealand, an old quarry is currently used as an open-air gallery for environmental sculpture.
Working with parks and recreation departments and other local organizations to create similar projects is a good way for quarry managers to integrate themselves and their organizations into the community. The business contacts and public appreciation generated by cooperative projects make it more likely that local reporters and legislators will listen to the quarry’s side of the story when zoning changes and blasting operations create controversy.
In addition to cooperative reclamation projects, there are other land use projects like leasing undeveloped property to be used for baseball and soccer fields.
Functioning quarries can schedule after-hours open-house tours. They can provide walking history lessons for local schools. In situations where it can be safely managed, they might allow photography clubs or classes to access parts of their grounds.
With automation and the requirement for staff with technical expertise reducing the number of local workers employed by quarries, and with corporate management from national and multinational ownership moving in, it is easy to understand how local communities feel exploited by quarry operations.
Most businesses still address local concerns with the old response that whatever they do is justified because they are creating jobs. It is a tired argument and one that is increasingly more difficult to make. Creative reclamation projects and targeted public-relations initiatives make a deeper, longer-lasting connection.
With a little help, people living around a quarry might view the quarry with pride, with a sense of connectedness, and with wonder.