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Superfund and Mining Megasites: Lessons from the Coeur d’alene River Basin
FIGURE 2-1 Location of Coeur d’Alene River basin. SOURCE: Adapted from Bookstrom et al. 2001.
banks almost forming an arch overhead” of the deep channel; and the stream “alive with trout and other fish” that “could be seen by the thousands in the clear water” (Rabe and Flaherty 1974). Deer, beaver, muskrat, otter, mink, wolves, weasels, mountain lions, badgers, wolverines, bear, and moose, along with numerous species of birds and vast schools of “salmon-trout,” were abundant. Father Nicholas Point, who ran the Coeur d’Alene Mission, claimed that “Perhaps nowhere else does so small an area contain such a variety [of wildlife]” and described the tribal members filling their canoes with fish in a couple of hours of fishing, and 100 braves returning from a hunt with 600 deer (Rabe and Flaherty 1974). Even at the beginning of the mining era, one prospector could boast of having caught 247 trout in one day’s fishing in Placer Creek, a tributary of the South Fork (Rabe and Flaherty 1974, p. 46).
The gold rush was relatively short lived, for much of the gold was buried under 25 feet of gravel or embedded in quartz seams in the bedrock. In either case, the gold was inaccessible to individual prospectors using hand labor and simple placer mining techniques, and many left. Those who stayed used more capital-intensive techniques and continued extracting gold from the North Fork basin for half a century (Hart and Nelson 1984).
THE EARLY YEARS
The gold, however, is not what made the Coeur d’Alene region one of the richest mining areas in the world. That resulted from the discovery of rich silver-lead-zinc–bearing ores along the tributaries and main stem of the