Mining People Magazinewww.miningpeople.org
Pits and Quarries: Helping to Build the Future
by Debra McCown Thomas
Staff Writer / Field Reporter
ne of the biggest pieces of misinformation being spread
about mining in the 21st century is that it necessarily scars
and destroys the landscape.
The story I encounter every day – over and over, in a hundred
different forms – is a reality in stark contrast to this narrative.
This is the story of companies reclaiming land for beneficial
uses, sometimes solving long standing problems that existed
when the land was in its undisturbed state – and often leaving
sites better and more useful than they found them.
One current buzzword for this trend is “adaptive reuse,” a term
borrowed from architecture that typically refers to re-using a
building for a purpose other than what it was built for originally.
For example, turning an old Industrial-era factory into hip,
new apartments that incorporate the historic brick and beams
into their design – or turning an empty strip mall into a local
The same concept – and often similar terminology – is also
being applied in mining, as companies seek more ways to
create lasting value on their sites after mining is complete.
Many great examples of this exist within the aggregates
industry, which has a host of innovative adaptive reuse projects
going on at former mining sites all over North America. And
while adaptive reuse of pits and quarries has been going on in
some form for well over a century, in recent years these projects
are becoming increasingly sophisticated – and are helping
communities to meet a wide variety of needs.
In cities like Atlanta, Chicago, and the Washington, D.C.,
metro area, former quarries have proved valuable for water
infrastructure, both in the form of reservoirs to supply growing
populations and stormwater control systems to prevent
damaging floods. The potential for aggregate mining to partner
with localities for water storage solutions is also significant in
the western U.S., where municipal water challenges can be
In urban areas across the U.S. – from old East Coast cities like
Boston to cities in South and West that have grown up primarily
in the last 100 years – former pits and quarries have often been
converted into land for development. In some places, this has
historically been a natural outgrowth of rising land prices that
make it obvious to leave sites ready to build on after mining is
From San Antonio to San Diego, the completion of longtime
aggregate mining operations has presented significant
opportunities for infill development projects that showcase
the latest in design and modern amenities, becoming home
to everything from amusement parks to neighborhoods and
shopping centers to mixed-use planned communities.
Even sites that don’t lend themselves to building have become
real assets to communities seeking to build their tourism
potential and improve their quality of life. From Connecticut
to California, communities have increasingly found ways to
turn them into sports adventure parks, featuring everything
from cliff-jumping and scuba diving to climbing, ziplining, and
European-style ropes courses.
In less urban areas, former pits and quarries can present
unique opportunities to restore previously disturbed land for
environmental uses, such as species habitat and conservation
or stream protection. Sometimes, these uses can also coincide
with facilities for local communities, such as public parks and
Increasingly, aggregate mining companies are looking at their
sites not as liabilities to be remediated but as assets to invest in
for adaptive re-use. Experts at industry-leading companies like
Martin Marietta and Vulcan Materials have become advocates
for planning with future uses in mind – even when mining on a
site is expected to continue for another 50 years.
As foundational as the mining of these materials is to our
society’s construction of infrastructure and buildings, it’s great
to know that the sites of former pits and quarries – and there are
thousands of them across North America – can continue to have
a positive impact not only for the decades they’re in operation
but also for many more decades in the future afterward, through
Many of these projects serve several needs at once; for
example, a city reservoir can also serve a need for recreation,
green space, and urban revitalization in a growing city. A wildlife
conservation project can also serve an educational function on
the rural plains. An adventure park can also be designed as a
site that showcases a community’s mining history.
The political narrative that claims mining is harmful to the
environment and communities is something we keep hearing.
But the reality is that across the continent, companies are opting
to partner with their communities to turn former mining sites into
things that make the world a better place – and a lot of them are
doing a really good job.