Mining built and shaped regionís early
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
Like many of Idahoís mountainous regions,
Boulder-White Cloud country was settled largely because of mining activities
around the turn of the 19th century.
With only a handful of exceptions,
however, large-scale mining has become a part of the regionís history. Custer
County, however, has ridden the surging waves associated with the boom-and-bust
nature of the industry through to present day.
Minerals were first discovered in Custer
County in 1873, with the discovery of gold, and a three-decade mining boom
ensued. Mining and cattle ranching activity in the area soon warranted a supply
base, and in 1876, Alvah P. Challis laid out the city of Challis as a supply
And in more recent terms, for most of the
1980s and 1990s, the Thompson Creek Mining Co. near Clayton was Custer Countyís
largest employer, but because of a recent decline in the market prices of
molybdenum, the mineís workforce was scaled back from the 400 at its peak to 20
in 2001. With a slight increase in the world molybdenum market, the mine said it
now employs approximately 100 and continues as Custer Countyís largest private
Mineral claims at Thompson Creek were
staked in 1967, and commercial production began in 1983. During peak operations,
the mineís annual production of 15 million pounds represented 8 percent of the
world molybdenum supply.
In April 1997, the short-lived Grouse
Creek gold mine near Stanley was closed by its parent firm, Hecla Mining Co.,
after 3.5 years of operations. The 187-person workforce was scaled back to a
skeleton crew of as many as 31 that continues to work on mine-site reclamation.
Mackay, roughly 60 miles south of
Challis, was a copper mining and livestock center, and agriculture continues as
the primary staple in Mackayís economy.
In 1901, Mackay was abuzz with expansion
plans from the White Knob Mining Co.ís copper mine.
During the Great Depression, metals prices
dropped dramatically, and the local impact forced a near shutdown of mining
activity during most of the 1930s. The war years, however, were prosperous ones
for Mackay, as war dictated increases in demand for copper.
The late-1940s marked the end of
significant mining in Mackay, but limited activity continued until about 1975.
The towns of Ketchum, Hailey and
Bellevue in the Wood River Valley of Blaine County were also mining centers
before sheep ranching and, later, tourism took over as the primary economic
engines. In 1936, Sun Valley resort opened its doors and the seeds for
present-day tourism were sewn.
The Wood River Mines were rich in lead and
silver, and between 1880 and 1885, $12 million worth of the minerals were
extracted from mines in the area.
The communities commemorate this heritage
annually, with Ketchumís Wagon Days celebration, held each Labor Day weekend.
In between the modern-day communities that
surround the Boulder and White Cloud Mountains, abandoned mines and ghost towns
Custer and Bonanza are restored ghost
towns and popular tourist destinations in Custer County. The ghost towns of
Galena, Bullion City, Boulder City and Broadford lay dormant in the Wood River
Valley. Vienna, Sawtooth City and Gladiator are some of the Sawtooth Valleyís