Nestled up in the mountains above Valley County, Idaho, in the Payette National Forest, beyond even the most remote town in the region, and in the middle of an otherwise densely green forest, sits Stibnite the currently dormant Stibnite Mine: a landscape of stripped earth, dead grass, rock, and the infamous “Glory Hole,” an open pit with a sluggish pond of waste.
The Stibnite Mine, located in what is now the Payette National Forest, started with underground shaft mining under the direction of Bradley Mining Company during the 1899 Thunder Mountain gold rush. However, Stibnite’s most active period of operation was during World War II. A core sample taken from the site revealed an abundance of antimony and tungsten, materials crucial to the war effort for supplying reinforced armor, ammunition shells, fire resistant clothing, and electrical chips. Between 1941 and 1945, miners hauled some of the nation’s vastest quantities of both metals out of Stibnite.
To extract so much material, Bradley Mining expanded Stibnite into a much larger beast. Instead of digging mine shafts, Bradley initiated open pit mining. To process the raw material, the company installed heavier equipment, such as a smelter and mill. When WWII ended, the demand for antimony and tungsten dwindled, and Stibnite’s profits with it. From this point forward, Stibnite operated off and on throughout the years, passing through different companies several times until it completely shut down in 1997.
The end of active mining didn’t end Stibnite’s story, though; instead, environmental issues took front and center stage. After years of mining, Stibnite had accumulated a massive amount of waste, raising the problem of what to do with it. One major point of contamination came from the Bradley Tailing Pile Dump in the Meadow Creek Floodplain. Preventing massive amounts of mine waste from washing downriver into the valley required diverting Meadow Creek twice. Even after this intervention, an environment and water quality survey conducted periodically from 2011 to 2017 around the Stibnite–Yellow Pine area, which included Meadow Creek, revealed elevated levels of mercury, antimony, and arsenic contamination.In addition to efforts to minimize the effect of tailings leeching contaminants into the waterways below the site, there have also been efforts to clean up and restore the environmental quality of Stibnite itself. For example, high school students conducted a multi-year tree planting project. Alongside these restoration and monitoring efforts have also been proposals to reevaluate the area’s continued resource potential by Perpetua Resources, the company now in charge of the Stibnite site. As of now, there has been an ongoing bid to reopen the Stibnite area mining once again—gold this time—bringing Stibnite’s mining story up to the present but not necessarily to its end.