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Mining People Magazine

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

government building.

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

adaptive re-use.

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.