By Kathleen Clayton
They’re green or brown and covered by warts. They have bulging eyes with horizontal slits. And heck, they don’t even hop. Even so, the western toad gets a highway of its own provided by Hecla Mining Company in the cleanup of the Troy Mine site.
When company personnel discovered this rare animal in the reclamation of the Troy mining site, they built a fenced-in corridor called the Toad Highway so the toads could safely traverse from pond to forest. The company even had their men trained on how to round up about 20 confused toads who got lost. The gloved employees ran around carefully catching the toads in the proper manner, returning them to the Toad Highway for a safe migration.
The Toad Highway was just one of the many sights witnessed by the members and friends of the Sandpoint Kiwanis Club, who were invited for a tour of the Montanore and Troy mine sites. On Sept. 16, we came by car, van and even motorcycle, meeting at the headquarters in Troy.
After a short film, we drove to the Montanore mine site. We lunched while encircled by towering mountains, then donned safety gear to ride a van the distance of 7,000 feet into the tunnel which ends up 1,700 feet beneath the mountain. At the end of the excavated tunnel, the mine is full of water which is continually being pumped out to keep the water level even. Company officials are hoping to obtain permits to extend the mine and access the copper and silver. Most people don’t realize that windmills producing electricity require many tons of copper which is imported now.
After we exited the mine, our guides showed us their expensive, state-of-the-art water filtration plant. Our guide, Doug Stiles, explained that the water is purified to a state better than the water currently pummeling down the streams. The natural stream water has few if any helpful minerals which are beneficial to trout, but the reprocessed water has traces of minerals helpful to fish. Doug told us that the company is constantly monitoring the water quality to ensure the mine has no adverse environmental impact on the streams or land.
The private van I rode in almost missed seeing the next site: the site of the old Troy Mine. Our driver got left behind while we fastened our seat belts. We took several wrong turns but finally got on the right road sailing right past the parking lot. Doug saw us and chased us to the end of the road. It’s only seven miles to the end, so he didn’t have to go far.
Once we joined the other half of our group, we boarded a school bus which groaned and creaked along a bumpy road. The extra effort Doug took to make sure we saw the rest of the tour proved worth the trip. The Troy mine is shut down now and Hecla is expending massive funds and effort to restore the area to original state. When we saw it, dump trucks — 320 loads a day — brought top soil to the site to spread over the area and plant trees, making the site a very busy place. Hecla even works to keep the dust level down.
The area is just in from the highway lined with residential homes bordered by mountains on the other side, making it a corridor for grizzly, bears, deer and moose traveling back and forth to Glacier Park.
Most remarkable of all: the Toad Highway. I was impressed that a big mining company actually cares about a small toad, warts and all. The company plans to keep the property in private hands and maintain it as a corridor for wildlife. The level of reclamation mine owners employ now days is far different than it used to be.