The string of former mine pits now full of water has an appropriate name.

Lake Ore Be Gone, part of a city of Gilbert recreational area formed from a chain of inactive mine pits, is a economic boon to the city.

From early May to early October each year, between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors stay at Sherwood Forest campground, a city-owned camping site adjacent to the lake. Thousands of others each year use the recreation area's swimming beach, fishing pier, public boat landing, volleyball and horseshoe courts, and scuba diving opportunities.

The campground is so popular that in 2018 it generated $130,000 to city coffers with 4,200 nights of visitor camping. Including spin-off spending, the campground generates an estimated annual economic impact of about a million dollars, according to city officials.

“It's an attraction for us, just like attractions are in any other town,” said Gilbert Mayor Karl Oberstar Jr. “People come to Gilbert to recreate, have a good time and when they go back home, Gilbert's name gets blasted around.”

But even more is planned for the recreation area where five natural iron ore mines between 1899 and 1969 shipped more than 37 million tons of natural iron ore.

Gilbert is upgrading and expanding the 57-unit campground, making parking lot improvements at the beach, and preparing a master campground plan.

A $100,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Mine Pit Lakeshore Enhancement Program and a $111,000 investment from the city, are funding the $211,000 project.

“We need more room – it's growing,” Oberstar said of the campground. “Lots of the camping units today are getting bigger and bigger in size, so we have to make bigger spots in the campground and upgrade the electricity to we don't blow breakers. We have to adjust to their needs.”

The Mine Pit Lakeshore Enhancement Grant Program is a new Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation pilot program.

The program is aimed at assisting cities, townships and tribal units of government within the agency's service area with development and restoration of mine pit lakeshores.

Site planning, shoreline and slope restoration, landscape and vegetation enhancement, beach improvements, fishing pier and trail access for onshore fishing locations, are eligible projects.

“The idea behind it came from some observations we had as it relates to some of the boat landings and beach areas that have come out of each of these pit areas over many, many years,” said Linda Johnson, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation director of Mining and Property Development. “A lot of the communities have embraced it, but as time passes, things become worn out and with funding challenges for all the communities, it's probably low on their list of priorities on things they can afford to really focus on. Part of the thought process was to number one enhance the quality of the boat and public access at the pits, helping enhance the quality of life for the people of the region, and also potentially creating more of a tourist attraction area.”

For decades, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation has helped communities fund recreation projects on former mineland.

Boat landings, beaches and recreation areas have been developed at inactive pits on the East Range, Mesabi Range, Vermilion Range, West Range, and Cuyuna Range.

Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, have also stocked tens of thousands of pound of trout and other fish species in specific inactive mine pits.

Across mining country, communities, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation and other entities, are partnering to redevelop former minelands for a variety of recreational activities.

“It's our region's ability to reclaim abandoned minelands and turn them into recreational facilities, turn them into parks, and turn them into locations unique in our state that are unlike any other,” said Johnson. “The access and the experience like paddle boarding or kayaking that you can have at one of these mine pits can add a whole new dimension on how you see mining.”

On the Cuyuna Range, the 800-acre Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area mountain bike system is one of the nation's top mountain biking destinations.

The Quarry, a championship caliber 18-hole golf course at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, was constructed on former mineland.

At Buhl, volunteers recently built a disc golf course and created walking trails at the former Judson Pit.

Construction on the “Redhead,” a new mountain bike trail surrounding the former Glen Mine in Chisholm, is scheduled to begin this summer.

At Gilbert, where the Gilbert, Schley, Hobart, Pettit and Malta mine pits once hummed with mining activity, city officials are confident that the campground upgrades and expansions, will help strengthen the local economy.

“It's all about spin-off,” said Oberstar. “You have to have spin-off to generate business and boost the economy. And you never know, they might say 'I like Gilbert, maybe there's some houses in town'.”

Lake Ore Be Gone received its name in 1986, during the Gov. Rudy Perpich administration when a local citizen won a naming contest for the recreation area, according to Oberstar.

In addition to the campground, the Lake Ore Be Gone beach also attracts people from all over, said Oberstar.

Phase I of the Gilbert project includes upgrading and expanding utilities for seven additional campground sites, preparation of a master plan and beach parking improvements.

Future plans include expanding the current office as a trailhead offering off-highway vehicle trail information, adding 26 more campground sites to the south, 15 sites to the north, constructing a new shower building, a floating water park, boat landing and beach improvements, and semi-trailer parking areas.

“The Sherwood Forest campground helps make Gilbert a destination,” said Jim Paulsen, Gilbert economic development administrator and interim city clerk. “It overlooks the beach on Lake Ore Be Gone and what it offers is unique to this area. The whole recreation area is a unique destination.”

There's good reason to upgrade and expand the campground.

Gilbert is home to the 1,200-acre Iron Range Off-Highway Vehicle State Recreation Area (OHVRA). The recreation area is operated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Sherwood Forest campground is connected to the OHVRA by an off-highway vehicle trail.

Plans are to expand the OHVRA area by 2,700-acres at a site north of Gilbert.

With success at a pilot scale, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation could look at expanding the Mine Pit Lakeshore Enhancement program.

“We want to test out the program to see if there's interest in our region and within the communities to continue to look at different ways to enhance the quality of life for the region,” said Johnson. “We're hoping some of the other communities will follow the leads and examples that are out there.”


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