Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Don't Crowd the Plow

Detroit has been blanketed by snow during the past 24 hours, and weather forecasters are predicting more of Mother Nature's white powder throughout tonight and tomorrow. (Hey, this wouldn't be Detroit without a 61 degree day on Sunday and a blizzard a few days later).

In the spirit of the cold, white weather we have all experienced today, I thought it would be fun to share some information on Detroit's salt mines, the intriguing and mysterious "other world" that lies just below southwest Detroit and its close suburban neighbors, Allen Park and Melvindale.

Located 1100 feet below Detroit's surface, lie over 100 miles of tunnels - salt mine tunnels - that, up until 1983, were filled with miners that worked to bring the salt to the surface. As Detroit was the first place in the nation that rock salt was used for ice control on roads and highways, the city experienced great profits from its natural resource. In addition to ice control, the products of Detroit's salt mines have also been used for meat preservation, as well as in the chemical industry. Due to falling prices and competition from Canadian salt mines, Detroit's salt mines closed in 1983. They were briefly reopened in 1998, when Crystal Mines bought the company and made tours of the mines were available. In 2000, the Detroit Renaissance - a private, non-profit group established in 1970 to help Detroit bring itself back to its former glory - assisted in securing funding for the mine's reopening as a salt production center. Bought from Crystal Mines at that time, the Detroit Salt Company, LLC, discontinued mine tours due to safety reasons.

Detroiters aren't the only ones who use the natural products from Michigan's salt, though. According to a report on the website of the Salt Institute, much of the nation's rock salt comes from the mines under Detroit. In addition, scientists believe that the natural resource was also used by prehistoric animals, such as the mastodon, in the form of natural salt licks.