HIBBING— It begins on a dirt road.
Driving past the Greyhound Bus Museum at the edge of North Hibbing, a sign directs visitors to turn right up a rugged path along the edge of a red, man-made mountain. Soon the road widens into a clearing and a cleanly trailer housing a temporary gift shop comes into view. To the right is a parking area and ahead is a paved walking path leading into a sprawling park where more than 1,100 people have already come to lay their eyes on a view of the northland like none other.
Hibbing’s Hull Rust Mahoning Mine View has been open in its new location since May 25, and while crews are still tidying up the last details of phase one, there’s already much to celebrate up high on the Susquehanna mine dump north of Brooklyn.
Entering the park, a sign explains that the project was made possible by Minnesota’s mining industry. The path then gradually winds past thoughtfully displayed mining artifacts with informational plaques. In one area there’s a mining haul truck engine module with an estimated replacement cost of $372,000. In another, a 170 ton production truck donated by Hibbing Taconite in 1998; and down from that, a production shovel bucket that holds 18 cubic yards— to name a few.
Tourists pause at each point, reading the posted information and taking photos of children who pose in the buckets, arms spread wide.
It’s all part of what Hibbing native and lead architect Andrew Lucia of LUCITO + Iroha Ito design firm envisioned when he came up with his “Windows to the Open” concept roughly two years ago.
“I’m tickled to see it open,” Lucia told the Hibbing Daily Tribune in a recent phone interview. “It's obviously a work in progress, so it’s a bit of a construction zone right now, but the parts that are open are beautiful. It was just great to see people in it and see kids running around.”
He added, “That was wonderful.”
Though he insists there are many “mini stages” ahead— landscaping, for example— he’s excited to move into the next phase, which involves construction of permanent buildings.
Currently a trailer with no electricity serves as the Hibbing Tourist Center’s operating headquarters on site. Volunteers like Susan Thellin sit inside selling solvenior mine view mugs, t-shirts, books, candy and more. The credit card machine is run on a battery, but Thellin doesn’t mind a little inconvenience. She’s just happy to help and collect donations.
“It’s been very busy up here,” Thellin said gazing around the packed trailer on a sunny afternoon in mid-June. “We’ve been busy selling items. People like of like it up here.”
One of those people is Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, who on May 30 posted a photo of the mine view on Twitter, describing it as a “spectacular view” and “worth the trip.” But he’s not the only one who thinks so.
The attraction is staffed and open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. now through September, and traffic there has been steady. Many who come are eager to climb the steps of the observation deck, which sits at the highest point of the park and provides a 360 degree view spanning 40 miles.
“My favorite aspect of the current park is that from every different location within, you get a very different perceptual experience,” Lucia said. “It’s not all about the mines or the 360 view. There are also moments when you’re almost in isolation in several points.”
Describing an access point that looks northeast to the Mesabi Range from a trench, he noted you mostly see just sky.
“I think that that's a really wonderful moment,” he remarked.
There were several good surprises construction got underway that Lucia said he couldn’t have anticipated. Even so, there’s still a lot of work to be done. He shared that there will be two more buildings with impressive view of the mines, and it will be a while before much of the natural vegetation grows back in from excavation.
In the meantime, visitors can still enjoy looking out at the world’s largest open pit mines and Hibbing Taconite’s mining operation.
It was roughly two years ago that Lucia revealed his first renderings of the new mine view to the City Council. The relocation, which was spurred by Hibbing Taconite Co. expanding its mining operations, allowed him to dream up a new vision for the tourist attraction — one complete with concrete box culverts along the perimeter to serve as window frames through which to view the spectacular imagery.
Last year, the first phase of the project was completed and included construction of an access road, safety fencing, new signage, walking trails and multiple viewing points, as well as artifact restoral and relocations. In the second phase, crews are working to run electrical to the site and address foundations and holding tanks for water and waste. However the project remains approximately a million-plus away from funding necessary to be completed.
In February, Tomassoni introduced legislation in the form of a $1.5 million bonding bill toward the $3 million project to reinvigorate the local tourist attraction, but that funding failed to come through.
While Lucia said he’s disappointed, he’s hopeful the bill will move forward in 2020.
“I can’t thank the Tourist Center for being as patient they have been,” Lucia said. “Pete Hyduke [director of City Services] put the temporary shelter up there for them and it’s been a long process. It’s the best we can do right now, and I appreciate them working with what they have.”
When it comes to the tourists, well, they don’t seem to mind either. Nearly everyone who leaves has a smile on their face, a solvenior or two and photos of new memories made.