EVELETH — It's like a little treasure in the heart of Iron Range mining.
The Leonidas Overlook, a scenic overlook high atop an abandoned iron ore dump within the city of Eveleth, is being upgraded.
This year, the city hopes to begin work to improve the overlook.
Eveleth's goal is to turn it into an appealing tourist attraction and a testament to modern iron ore mining.
“We've been having a lot of interest in it,” said Eveleth Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich. “I just had some people come up to me in the IGA and ask, 'Where is the Big Stick and where is the overlook?' It's really the only overlook around here since the one in Virginia (Mineview in the Sky) is gone.”
Approximately $75,000 to $100,000 in improvements are planned.
The Eveleth City Council has approved funding half the cost, said Vlaisavljevich.
The city is seeking a Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation grant to pay for the other half, according to Eveleth City Administrator Jackie Monahan-Junek.
“It's a little tired up there,” said Monahan-Junek. “The city council is very proactive and cognizant about what we are and that it's our duty to take care of what we have.”
The overlook is said to be the highest man-made point on the Mesabi Iron Range.
On clear days, the overlook offers a panoramic view for miles.
Cleveland-Cliffs' United Taconite Thunderbird Mine, United States Steel's Minntac Mine, and ArcelorMittal Minorca operations, are visible to the north.
About 23 miles to the west, visitors can often see steam rising from Hibbing Taconite's processing plant.
Some nine miles to the south is United Taconite's Fairlane processing plant in Forbes.
Improvements to the overlook include:
· Panoramic interpretative signage.
· Americans with Disabilities Act accessible walkways.
· A wooded picnic area with picnic tables.
· Overlook seating and a commercial trash receptacle.
· Solar lighting.
· Developing a secondary overlook area looking south with interpretative signage.
· Constructing a four-foot wide Ridgeline walking trail.
· Constructing a four-foot wide trail that connects the Ridgeline trail to West Eveleth/Leonidas.
· Clearing growth on the overlook slope.
· Grading all areas.
· Parking area aggregate resurfacing.
· A new main entry sign with solar lighting.
· New signage along St. Louis County Highway 101.
· Native wildflower seeding.
The name Leonidas is well-known on the Iron Range.
The tiny city of Leonidas, near the overlook, is named after Leonidas Merritt, one of the seven Merritt brothers who in 1889, began digging tests pits where iron ore had been found on the Mesabi Iron Range. The successful test pits led to the July 10, 1890, development of the Mountain Iron Company. The discovery launched development of the Mountain Iron Mine and the beginnings of iron ore mining on the Mesabi Iron Range.
The Leonidas brothers, “The Seven Iron Men,” as they were called, were led by Leonidas Merritt.
Merritt and his brothers became legendary with mines, schools and streets, named after them.
Leonidas Mine, just northeast of the city of Leonidas and near the overlook, opened in 1908. It became the deepest underground mine in the world at over 650 feet.
When it closed in 1980 under the operation of Rhude & Fryberger, the Leonidas Mine had produced more than 23.9 million tons of natural iron ore.
Other natural iron ore mines which operated in the immediate area were the Gross-Nelson, Cloquet Annex, Alice, Spruce, and Hull-Nelson.
The former Leonidas Mine is today part of United Taconite's Thunderbird Mine open pit mining operation.
Although all of the region's natural iron ore mines are closed, the mining of low-grade iron contained in taconite, continues to be a major force in and around Iron Range communities.
Mining has always been big in Eveleth — known as the “Hill Top City.”
The original town site was south and west of its current site. But iron ore was discovered beneath the town site in 1895.
“Where the main street is now, is not where it was,” said Vlaisavljevich. “It was moved because of mining.”
Within Eveleth city limits, 65 percent of the land is still owned by mining interests, said Vlaisavljevich.
For years, the Leonidas Overlook has been open to the public.
A winding road curls up the side of the abandoned dump to the top of the overlook.
From the top, a huge portion of the Iron Range landscape – including lush forests, wetlands, neighboring cities, and mining activity - is visible.
The overlook's vantage point offers a visual example of how mining interacts with communities today, said Monahan-Junek.
“The mines aren't leaving this massive terrible scar on the environment, they are integrated into our lives” said Monahan-Junek. “People can see that the land is reclaimed, it's replanted, it's reforested.”
The surface of the Leonidas Overlook is leased from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to the city of Eveleth, said Monahan-Junek.
Revitalizing the overlook will help visitors better understand the impact of iron ore mining on the city of Eveleth and the region, said Vlaisavljevich.
Interpretative signage atop the overlook will provide information on active mines visible from the overlook and educate visitors about northeastern Minnesota's iron ore mining industry.
Northeastern Minnesota's six taconite plants produce about 40 million tons of iron ore pellets annually. Iron ore pellets are the primary ingredient used to make steel.
About 4,000 are directly employed in Minnesota's iron ore industry. The industry contributes more than $3 billion annually to the Minnesota economy and supports 12,000 jobs which provide goods and services to the industry.
“It kind of educates people on the mining business,” said Vlaisavljevich of the overlook. “A lot of people know there's mines here, but they don't understand the impact of mining on the region, the area they cover, and what they do. They are really impressive operations.”
With the improvements, city officials hope the overlook will receive added publicity in regional tourism brochures and other media, bringing in more visitors.
“It's really part of recognizing our history and bringing it to everyone's attention,” said Vlaisavljevich. “I think as an attraction for future businesses and residents, it's something for a community to focus on.”
Even longtime Iron Range residents will be impressed when visiting the improved overlook, said Vlaisavljevich.
“We all take it for granted because we grew up with it,” Vlaisavljevich said of mining. “But when the one went away in Virginia, where do you direct anybody to go? When people call and ask about it (the overlook), or you have groups who might be staying out at the lake park asking about it, you start thinking about all the requests that we've been getting. It just needs a little more dressing up. It's really a treasure in mining.”