From the U.S. Forest Service, released on Aug. 26.
The USDA Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina announced the permanent closure of 11 abandoned mine shafts at the Ray Mines area in Yancey County, N.C., to promote public safety and protect bats and other forest resources.
“Public safety is our number one priority at the Forest Service,” said Tina Tilley, ranger of the Appalachian District in the Pisgah National Forest. “Closing the abandoned mine shafts to the public will restrict access and make the area safer for recreational users, while providing environmental benefits such as preventing the spread of deadly white nose syndrome to local bats and protecting water quality. It is important to note that my decision to close the shafts will not prohibit recreational rockhounding in the area.”
The Forest Service is closing eight shafts by replacing existing, ineffective fences. The agency is closing two shafts using metal grates and one shaft using a plug and native vegetation. No mine tailings will be used to close any of the shafts.
The Ray Mines, located about 2.5 miles southeast of Burnsville, were intermittently mined between 1867 and 1944 by at least seven different owners. The mines have remained inactive since the 1940s. Mineral material, including mica, was mined at the site. The Forest Service temporarily closed the shafts at Ray Mines about two years ago as part of a Southern Region Closure Order to protect endangered, threatened and sensitive bat species, and to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome. The Forest Service received comments from a variety of stakeholders and completed biological studies prior to deciding to permanently close the shafts at Ray Mines.
White nose syndrome is a disease that has killed millions of bats in the East. Bats have been seen near two of the shafts and other shafts that provide suitable habitat for them. Given the presence of white nose syndrome in the county, it is important to limit further stress to the species.
The decision to close the 11 shafts restricts public access into and adjacent to them. It also establishes buffers along two perennial streams to restrict digging from recreational rockhounding, which is permitted under the closure. The closure is consistent with the current Pisgah Forest Plan, which allows, “…recreational collection of minerals where minerals are loose and free on the surface, in federal ownerships, and not restricted by permit.” The plan restricts mineral collection to non-mechanical equipment with no significant ground and stream disturbance. While recreational rockhounding is allowed in the area, buffered areas will help protect waterways from streambank erosion and sedimentation. The agency will monitor the area to assess the effectiveness of the decision at protecting resources.