ANACONDA, Mont. -- The Anaconda Smelter Stack serves as the Southwest Montana town's unofficial monument: a reminder of the proud copper mining history that once took place.

But it also serves as a scar.

Even though the stack hasn't seen any use since the 1980s, the marks of over a century's worth of smelting remain, as contaminants of arsenic, copper, and other metals have left much of Anaconda and the surrounding areas in rough shape.

"The smelter's operations resulted in the deposition of hazardous materials over hundreds of square miles," said NRDP environmental scientist Ray Vinkey. "Those metals resulted in highly degraded ecosystems... impacts to the vegetation and also to the water bodies, as a result of those metals coming downhill and getting into streams and rivers."

Thankfully, protection efforts have ensured that these toxins present no harm to residents. But the environmental repair has been a decades-long process.

It's just now in 2023 that, after years of state-owned land cleanup and remediation from other parties (such as the Atlantic Richfield Company, which has owned the stack since purchasing the Anaconda Company in 1977), the Montana Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) has the funding and the clearance to restore Anaconda's county-owned land to its former glory.

That means that spots like the famous 'A' hill, if purchased by the county, could soon be in for a facelift.

"Revegetation would be an example to replace damaged lands... enhancement of wildlife habitats, development of trails networks," Vinkey said of the possible restoration projects. "Our citizens were deprived a century of opportunity to recreate on some of these damaged lands, so now we're working to provide those opportunities where they didn't occur before."

NRDP has been granted $4 million for this project and is hoping that the residents who call these lands home will provide some feedback on where they'd like to see the money allocated.

If you weren't able to attend NRDP's public discussion meeting on Tuesday, you can steal reach out via the public comment section, found on the NRDP website.

NRDP will be accepting suggestions up until June 9.


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