Minnesota's worst mining disaster happened here – and now it's a park

It's 'a humble attempt to preserve the memory.'

The mining companies left Crow Wing County a long time ago, but their legacy – the good and the bad – is still strong in that part of Minnesota. 

And a new county park that had its grand opening Wednesday will help keep it that way. 

MIlford Mine Memorial Park, near the town of Crosby, is where the state's worst mining accident happened in 1924 when a collapse killed 41 people. 

After ten years of planning, the county celebrated the opening of the park it calls "a humble attempt to preserve the memory of those who gave their lives to pursue the American dream and provide for their families."

What happened here?

The miners were only 15 minutes away from quitting time on February 5, 1924, when a mine shaft collapsed, sending water and mud flooding through the tunnels. 

According to the county, the 200-foot mine filled to within 15 feet of the surface, and the whole thing took only 20 minutes. 

There was only one shaft out of the mine. Seven people made it out alive but the other 41 miners died. 

One of the survivors was the father of Jake Ravnick. Jake's 100 now, and tells MPR News he was six and living in a shack next to the mine when it collapsed. He says it took nine months o pump out all the water and recover the last of the bodies. 

The park

After the mine closed, Milford Lake formed on the site. A centerpiece of the new park is the boardwalk that winds 450 feet through its waters. 

The names of all the miners – the survivors as well as the victims – are inscribed at intervals along the boardwalk. 

There are also signs that help visitors learn about what happened there. The county says the park is meant to be "a place of reflection, recreation, and community."

The area is part of the Cuyana Range in north central Minnesota, which was smaller than the Mesabi Range that's still producing iron ore. 

Even though the mining jobs have left the region around Crosby, northeastern Minnesota blogger Aaron Brown says the area still feels strong connections to the immigrant miners who started families there a century ago.

Joan Stefano, 82, told MPR she's grateful the old Milford Mine is preserved as a park. 

"When I go out there I know my father's footprints are all over there, and so when I'm walking it, it's like sacred ground for me," she said.

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