After spending a day geocaching with Aaron in Northfield, we were driving back to my place in Apple Valley along MN-3 when I spotted the well known Gopher Munitions Plant, located on the University of Minnesota‘s UMore Park research lands, off in the distance. I quickly explained to Aaron what the location was and some of the history behind it and he decided it would make for great photos and a way for him to complete an SF0 task.
The now defunct Gopher Ordnance Plant was originally one of 77 munition facilities built to support the efforts during WWII. The plant’s grounds were originally located on 12,120 acres of farmland that was acquired using eminent domain. This land was originally owned by eighty independent farms. The plant was to produce smokeless gunpowder as well as nitric and sulfuric acid for the war effort.
During the 1940s, the 12,000+ acres housed 16,000 workers and nearly 860 buildings but it is now home to numerous toxic metals and waste, overgrown ruins, public outreach programs, and research facilities.
The University of Minnesota now owns approximately 8,500 of the 12,100 acres originally used during WWII for the plant. Of that 8,500 acres many are unusable due to heavy levels of toxic chemicals and metals that still permeate the soil. It has been
reported (this has now conveniently been removed from Dakota County’s site but I have a backup copy here — interesting how development is about to begin and you remove the very interesting information we need to see) that high levels of chromium, arsenic, mercury, lead, and various other chemicals exceed the acceptable levels for the soil. It’s of little wonder why they do so much agricultural and livestock research in the area.
The ruins have attracted visitors from all over the metro area. Some have done what I have and just spent their time taking numerous photos while exploring the heavily patrolled grounds. Others, such as the Action Squad have taken a different approach and spent a lot of time exploring the ruins at length and going so far as to enter the tunnels and abandoned buildings on site.
On our visit today, Aaron and I only spent a few minutes snapping pictures of nature reclaiming what it rightfully owns. Proof that even the most dangerous chemicals and toxins can be overcome in sixty years time… I especially enjoyed looking at the concrete walls that line CR-46 and how the trees, vines, and other plants have grown up, around, and through the structures. To see just how much has been reclaimed since the original destruction, check out pages six and eleven in
this presentation (they have removed this PDF apparently and I can’t find my copy). A completely different area from the busy days of WWII!
UMore Park has been slowly opening up parts of their land to the public for various recreational ventures and outreach programs including:
- Dakota County Master Gardeners’ Research and Display Garden which offers the public educational opportunities and a place for the Master Gardeners to display their breathtaking work.
- The Lone Rock Trail, an 11 mile loop for use by hikers, horseback riders, snoeshoers, and cross country skiiers.
- Tours for groups that are interested in the research, history, and ongoing work at UMore Park
While I had known quite a bit about the vast history of the area surrounding the Gopher Ordnance Plant, I was thrilled to learn more as well as look at it from the perspective of how nature is reclaiming what it once controlled.
Overall, a great day for geocaching and helping Aaron out with yet another SF0 task.