Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Former Strip Mine to Offer Recreation

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Former Strip Mine to Offer Recreation

Article excerpt

MORE THAN 1,000 acres of a former strip mine near New Athens are now a wildlife refuge and recreation area on the Kaskaskia River.

The U.S. Interior Department recently presented Peabody Coal Co. a national award for the transformation, plus a second "excellence" award for farming experiments at a former mine in Kentucky.

Said Peabody president Frank Dunham: "Our employees have put a lot of creative thinking and hard work into making these reclamation sites models to illustrate how the coal industry can bring long-term economic benefits to a community after mining is completed."

The company collaborated with the Corps of Engineers and the Illinois departments of Conservation, Mines and Minerals, and Transportation in converting much of its River King No. 3 Mine at New Athens into habitat for fish and waterfowl.

Peabody had agreed in 1987 to give 1,800 acres of its former holdings, including the River King No. 3 mining and reclamation area, to the Illinois Department of Conservation.

The department took formal ownership last year. The area is to be opened to the public later this year, perhaps as early as August.

Frank D. Brazinski Jr., Illinois reclamation supervisor for Peabody Coal Co., said reclamation took careful planning. "The activities were performed under difficult and unusual field circumstances," he said.

Until recently, for example, workers could not be sure all the water from their lakes would not leak back into the Kaskaskia River through sandy banks. "We are actually holding water above the level of the river," Brazinski said.

The project covers 1,032 acres along the Kaskaskia just east of New Athens, including a 324-acre island that was formed when the Corps of Engineers dredged a barge channel some 20 years ago, cutting through some of the river's former bends.

"This is just an ox bow that got cut off," Brazinski said. That allowed Peabody to mine some 200 acres it couldn't reach before, then include the island in its wildlife refuge.

Brazinski said the planning team wanted to provide aquatic habitat for waterfowl, and for wading and shore birds. Included are deep-water lakes, shallow backwater pools, potholes, marshes, sheet-water areas, nesting islands, peninsulas, a variety of shorelines and mud flats.

"We left ridges out there for nesting islands for ducks and geese," Brazinski said. "It keeps the predators away from them in the springtime."

As it nears completion, the project has 403 acres of water, eight acres of forest and 130 acres of woodland plantings. "Really, the entire area has been planted with trees," he said. …

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