For nearly 30 years, an informal group of local desert rats has traipsed across Southern Arizona on a mission to find and mark dangerous abandoned mines. While that group is still around and eager to work, the government has backed off on its support, hampering efforts.
The Hazardous Abandoned Mine Finders, a group of nine men founded by Fred Fielder, has gone out nearly weekly since 1989 to pinpoint mine shafts across Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties and erect warning signs. In nearly three decades, the Green Valley crew has posted about 10,000 signs at shafts that were once mining operations. They’ve marked up to 14 in one day, and in 1996, the group put up 667 signs.
“If you are out there and see one of these signs, the odds are 90 percent that we put that there,” according to Marlin White, the group’s current leader.
Their activity is altruistic, but they also help meet a legal requirement. According to state law, any mine operator or someone with an active, closing or abandoned mine on their land must, at a minimum, put up fencing and a sign warning of danger. Yet there are thousands of shafts, many hundreds of feet deep, still unmarked and unsecured.
Ray Smith, one of the group’s early members who retired from it several years ago, said they originally approached the state mine inspector’s office to help with the effort. They were rebuffed, but were embraced by the U.S. Forest Service after they approached that agency, he said.
At first the group made their own signs with plasticized paper on wood boards – which Smith called “terrible” – but eventually they received aluminum signs from the Forest Service. The agency also provided bolts, stakes and radios to the group. Smith estimates that the group must have hit around 90 percent of the mines around Green Valley.
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