I expected the ghost town to feel eerie, as though spirits watched from hidden places waiting for us to leave. Copper City held none of those–it was peaceful. The area consists of a meadow the size of a city lot wreathed in trees and the only sound would have been the creek had I not been accompanied by boys and dogs. I was amazed at how green it was, the grass looked like it had been mowed not long before and wildflowers grew in patches up the steep hill. In every direction all I could sense was complete stillness.
Our decision to visit the area was made after reading an article in the Yakima Herald Republic written by Mike Faulk in September of 2012. Extensive research was done, a route queried in MapQuest, a stop for gas and snacks and we were off. Copper City is located near Goose Prairie, about eight miles south of Bumping Lake Campground in the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. We bounced along five miles of rough gravel road before we reached our destination. Washouts are common this far into the forest, but we were happy to find that we could drive all the way to the abandoned mill town and park at the base of the hiking trail. Inside the meadow is a bunkhouse that has completely collapsed—hundreds of initials are carved into the weathered gray wood from visitors to this hidden place and sheets of rust are strewn on the grass behind the building. All of the cabins and shacks are gone, but evidence was found that they once existed while walking through the thick grass. Corroded iron rods and bolts litter the area; no longer having a purpose. Cutting up the hill are rotted pylons from the lumber mill and a tiny trickle of the creek winding over and around the old wood. Small copper rock shards litter the area—debris from another time.
I tried to imagine what this place must have looked like around the turn of the 20th century. A dozen men busy with work, the smell of smoke and horses, the sound of industry. Mining was hard work and they were 70 miles away from any kind of civilization. No train ever steamed its way through this area; the only mode of transportation they had were horses. For a moment I could almost hear them calling to each other down the hill and smell bacon cooking. My husband told me that there had never been a fatality at the mine and the worst injury was inflicted on Reuben Root, who bought the claim in 1905. While chipping rock with a chisel during winter he caught a piece of metal in his eye. They used horses and skis to get to the nearest doctor—four days away—and he ended up losing his eye.
“He went right back to mining”, my husband said proudly.
I could tell he felt this was a testament to a man’s passion, but I thought it was slightly depressing.
A wide, clearly marked trail curls up the hill through dense trees to the mines. I had read that a large house once occupied the clearing at the top and was disappointed to see that nothing remained of it but a basement pit. The view from their windows must have been magnificent.
The first gold claim in the area of Copper City was filed in 1889 and the mine operated from 1905 to 1942; costing over a million dollars and producing about 800 tons of gold, silver, copper and tungsten. The site died because of transportation costs; a railway had been promised but never built. It will die a permanent death in 2015 when the site is bulldozed. According to the USDA website arsenic and other toxic chemicals are leaking into the creeks and surrounding lakes from the waste rock left over from the mining process. The Forest Service’s plan is to bury the materials under a protective cloth-like lining, known as geotextile, and cover it with soil and vegetation to limit exposure to rain and snow that can leach minerals from the tailings.
I left with a heavy heart. Where a washout area has been greatly improved with large cement blocks I realize these mended places have not been made for visitors like us, but instead for the machinery to demolish. While I understand the need for environmental protection I cannot help but be saddened by the loss of a piece of Eastern Washington history.