Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Historic mine reopens to tourists after a long wait

It took 32 years to turn the idea into reality, but an old, historic coal mine has reopened to visitors in Lynch, Ky., near the Virginia border. Portal 31 was opened by the old U.S. Coal & Coke Co. in 1917, produced a world record 12,820 tons of coal in a nine-hour shift in 1923 and was mined until 1963, Dori Hjalmarson of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. "It's the best exhibition mine in the country, maybe the world," Bruce Ayers, president of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, whose Southeast Education Foundation will oversee the operation of the tourism attraction, said. (Herald-Leader photo by David Perry)

The Disney World-like attraction will follow an animatronic Italian immigrant miner and three generations of his family on a 30-minute rail car ride through the mine. The tour starts with 1910-era hand mining and continues through 1960s mechanization. The attraction is the latest example of Harlan County's increased emphasis on tourism, Hjalmarson reports. The county opened ATV trails in nearby Evarts and is home to the Kentucky Coal Museum. Ayers hopes Lynch's remote location won't deter visitors from coming to see the mine: "We're trying to use the remoteness as part of the attraction."

The Portal 31 exhibit used about $2.3 million in grants from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Economic Development Administration, the Appalachian Regional Commission, state coal severance taxes and state park funds, Hjalmarson reports. "I thought I would have gone to glory before I saw this finished," Bobbie Gothard, director of a local Main Street program, told Hjalmarson. (Read more)

Nearly $750,000 was spent to reinforce the mine's roof and walls, Jason Edwards of the Harlan Daily Enterprise reports, and the tour isn't just a mining how-to. “We talked about the issues facing the miners, not just mining itself," Ayers told Edwards. He said the exhibit already has attracted inquiries from hundreds of interested tourists, and it might take as long as a month to accommodate the pent-up demand. (Read more)

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