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Cuyuna Iron Mines - Crosby MN


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It is a world like you have never seen. The eerily dark, deep green waters envelop items from the past. As you float through, different things appear in a ghostly manner...a car, mining equipment...it all silently attests to times gone by. These are the mines of Minnesota and it is here you will find yourself enamored with fresh water in a way you never thought possible. It’s like swimming through the afterlife. One of the earliest settlers in the Brainerd, Minnesota area was a surveyor named Cuyler Adams. Adams was not a well-liked man in any sense of the word however he did have a nose for making money. While scouting the Brainerd area he noticed an unnatural deviation of the compass needle he was holding. It seemed that, in certain areas, the needle would go nuts. After some further inspection Adams discovered the reason the compass needle seemed to have a mind of its own...iron ore and lots of it. Adams had found his vein of money and he would spend many years pulling as much ore out of the ground near Brainerd as he could. The Cuyuna Range, named from the combined names of Cuyler Adams and his dog Una, was born. The development of a town followed and on November 14, 1908 the village of Cuyuna was platted. What followed that first mine were more mines bringing in more people to work them. The mines near the subsequent towns fo Crosby and Ironton were by far the largest but they were only a part of a whole series of mines in the Cuyuna Iron Range. The most infamous of the mines was the Milford Mine site where 41 miners died February 5, 1924. The mines gave up 100,000,000 tons of iron ore before they were closed and allowed to flood. Today the mines are a series of pits filled with pristine clear water and have become a Mecca for scuba divers. Much of the old mining equipment was left inside the mines and now serves as homes to the various fish that occupy these deep dark pockets of liquid exploration. The Cuyuna Iron Mines are currently a part of the Cuyuna State Recreational area which claims some of the best diving in the Midwest. The water filled mines include 55 open pit mines. The water is the result of turning off the pumps that kept these huge holes dry when the ore mining stopped. It took a decade for the water to rise to the current levels but what resulted is the diving playgrounds the mines serve as today. The Minnesota Department of Natural Recourses stocked the waters with northern pike, walleye, crappie, bass, trout and sunfish further adding to the run divers have. Visibility is usually around 20-50 ft. and along with great fish life, divers can still find remnants of the rich mining past as well as other things that have been added to mines in order to create fish habitat and make them interesting to dive. There are forgotten mine shafts, pipes that once pumped the mines dry, building foundations, power poles and old road beds as well as old train rails. All of these things make for interesting dives in the very heart of the Midwest United States. Adding to the mystic of the mines are trees that have had time to grow tall around the edges of the mines. Divers get to experience swimming through the trees. It is as if a ghostly forest has set up home in the mines offering yet another odd experience to diving the Midwest. Underwater photographers have also discovered the mines and spend a lot of time mapping through the areas that are most interesting. One Midwest dive company, the Minnesota School of Diving located in Brainerd and St. Cloud, has created over 50 unique dive sites in the Cuyuna State Recreational area for divers to experience. MSD is the only dive center within 60 miles of the mines so they see a lot of divers come through. They offer actual dive maps of the area too. Local diver Kat Colby has been diving the mines for years and does a lot of dives with MSD. "They plan some really interesting and fun dives," Colby says. "It’s like one big family and every dive into the mines is like a brand new dive. I think one of the most interesting parts of diving the mines for me is the feeling of diving through the past. There is a lot of old mining equipment and it is fun to explore some of the structures and piping. It’s one of those dives you find yourself drawn to over and over again." MSD co-owner Todd Matthies agrees and says the experience of diving the mines is great but his dive center also strives to makes the dives about the connection between divers as well. "There are a lot of interesting things to see in the mines. We have been diving them for over 25 years and it is a very unique environment," Matthies says. "We also are about the divers. People keep coming back and a lot of the reason is because of the people we dive with and the connections the divers are making to each other. Although the Cuyuna Iron Mines are a huge draw, there are others to explore such as the Portsmouth Mine Pit. It is consdiered one of the deepest lake in Minnesota at 352 feet deep (Mahnomen Iron min/lake, located a quarter mile away is the deepest min lake in the Cuyuna Range at 530 feet deep). The 120 acre artificial lake/pit is a former mining pit and sports a large population of brook and rainbow trout. Johnna Johnson, the Director of the Cuyuna Chamber of Commerce, says the mines are a huge draw to the area and her agency is doing all it can to be supportive of those divers who come out to experience the mines. "We call ourselves the ambassadors of all things related to outdoor junkies," Johnson says. "We collect all the information we can and get it to the people who come out to dive or snorkel the mines. We also encourage businesses in the area helping them to network in promoting tourism. There are things going on all the time and we have a lot of information to give to people who visit the area." Johnson adds that although Cuyuna doesn’t have the traditional B & B’s and hotels a lot of other areas have, they do have some interesting alternative lodgings in the area. "We have a lot of condos and cabins for people visiting. It is a great place to get a group of people together to rent a cabin," Johnson says.

Comments

LisaCat - 3/20/2014 1:25 PM
Rating Added: 4
I have been diving Cuyuna since 2004. It has been developed in recent years, making it a safer environment (theft was a problem when it was just dirt roads). Unfortunately with more mixed use comes cloudier water. Have had problems with jet skiers, water skiers and territorial fishermen. The DNR is getting better at addressing these issues. It is worth getting information and maps at the Minnesota School of Diving. Great shop with great staff.

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