On Friday I joined a tour to go and visit Our Lady of the Rockies. There were 9 of us on the tour including three children. Our guide Rhonda was really good and told us a lot about both the statue and the area. Butte sits at about 5,400 feet above sea level and Our Lady is at 8,510 feet so we had a bit of a climb in the van to get there. Prior to the tour we watched a video about how Our Lady came to be. It was very interesting and the passion of the people involved was quite phenomenal. The statue was made in 4 sections and Butte literally came to a standstill when the final piece of the statue was helicoptered up and put into place, as you can see the statue from the town below. The statue sits on top of the Continental Divide that separates the Pacific from the Atlantic – we crossed the Continental Divide six times before reaching the top.
The statue was first imagined by local resident Bob O’Bill. In 1979, his wife was seriously ill with cancer. He promised the Blessed Virgin Mary that he would make a 5-foot statue of her in his yard if his wife recovered. When she recovered he began the project with his fellow workers who gradually changed the initial vision to a 90-foot-high mountain top statue. Many people in Butte donated materials and time to make the statue a reality. The design for the statue was engineered by Laurien Eugene Riehl. He was a retired engineer for the Anaconda Company who donated his engineering skills to the project. The statue had to withstand the powerful windsheers that buffet the ridge tops. Joe Roberts donated his lot and buildings for the construction of the statue. The statue was airlifted from Roberts Rocky Mountain Equipment to its present site on the Continental Divide.
Work on the project began in December 29, 1979. Volunteers spent many summer evenings blasting a road to the top of the Rockies, sometimes making only 10 feet of progress a day. The base of the statue was poured in September 1985 with 400 tons of concrete. The concrete was provided by Pioneer Concrete Company, a longtime family business in Butte, Montana. On December 17, 1985, a CH-54 Tarhe from the Army National Guard’s 137th Aviation Company lifted the statue in four sections into place.
Our lady of the Rockies is entirely nondenominational, and was dedicated by workers to woman everywhere, especially to mothers.
A chapel was built on the site some years later with the base being in the shape of a star. On the walls of the base they have a Womens Memorial Board where thousands of women’s names are listed under the year they died. These names include Princess Diana and Mother Theresa.
You also got a really good view up there over the town and the various mountain ranges that surround the town. You can see the active mine below and the lake of extremely toxic water as a result of the mining industry that has dominated this town for many years.
The pit of greenish poison a mile is a half a mile wide and over a third of a mile deep. It hasn’t always been so – it was once a thriving copper mine appropriately dubbed “The Richest Hill in the World.” Over a billion tons of copper ore, silver, gold, and other metals were extracted from the rock of southwestern Montana, making the mining town of Butte one of the richest communities in the country, as well as feeding America’s industrial might for nearly a hundred years. By the middle of the twentieth century, the Anaconda Mining Company was in charge of virtually all the mining operations. When running underground mines became too costly in the 1950’s, Anaconda switched to the drastic but effective methods of “mountaintop removal” and open pit mining. Huge amounts of copper were needed to satisfy the growing demand for radios, televisions, telephones, automobiles, computers, and all the other equipment of America’s post-war boom. As more and more rock was excavated, groundwater began to seep into the pit, and pumps had to be installed to keep it from slowly flooding.
By 1983, the hill was so exhausted that the Anaconda Mining Company was no longer able to extract minerals in profitable amounts. They packed up all the equipment that they could move, shut down the water pumps, and moved on to more lucrative scraps of Earth. Without the pumps, rain and groundwater gradually began to collect in the pit, leaching out the metals and minerals in the surrounding rock. The water became as acidic as lemon juice, creating a toxic brew of heavy metal poisons including arsenic, lead, and zinc. No fish live there, and no plants line the shores. There aren’t even any insects buzzing about. The Berkeley Pit had become one of the deadliest places on earth, too toxic even for microorganisms.
They are working to clean the site up. The most recent development in the clean-up was the construction of a treatment plant on Horseshoe Bend. This facility treats and diverts water coming from the Horseshoe Bend flow. In addition, it will be able to treat the existing Berkeley Pit water in 2018, or whenever the water level hits the critical point of 5,410 feet (1,650 m) above sea level. This number was set by federal order and is intended to protect the ground water from being contaminated by the water in the pit.
The Berkeley Pit is a Superfund site – Superfund or Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) is a United States federal law designed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances and pollutants.