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Mining Lessons for Merit Badges

When Geologist Frank Pezzutto asked the dozen or so Boy Scouts what gypsum crystals are used for in our everyday life, all but one stood there in Minnesota Discovery Center’s Hall of Geology baffled.

“Sheet rock,” yelled one of the scouts.

And he was right.

That was just one of the many tidbits of information the 50-plus scouts learned while attending the Mining in Society Merit Badge-Spring Camporee earlier this month. The first-of-its-kind event was organized and sponsored by the Minnesota Section of the Society of Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME).

Roughly eight troops of the Boundary Waters District of the Voyageurs Area Council Boy Scouts of America participated. The scouts were receptive and enjoyed the day, said Bill Beyer, district chair.

“The boys were really excited, and learned a lot about mining that they didn’t already know in terms of growing up here on the Iron Range,” he said. “They got a better picture of how mining happens and how big a part of our economy it is.”

The scouts spent the day at the Minnesota Museum of Mining, Minnesota Discovery Center (MDC) and a local mine fulfilling the requirements of the Mining Merit Badge. The camporee concluded with an awards ceremony, during which the scouts each received his badge.

To earn the badge, the scouts were required to do several things, including learn about minerals, use a map to locate five mining enterprises, identify potential hazards a miner may encounter, discuss the dangers someone might encounter at an abandoned mine, visit a mining/minerals museum or an active mine, find out what is being done to help control environmental impacts, read about reclamation, meet with a worker in the mining industry and/or research three career opportunities in the mining industry, among other options.

The badge is about a year old, according to Beyer. He said it was devised by a joint effort of Boy Scouts of America and SME.

“We really had both sides of the aisle involved with this, and both were really excited to do this,” he added, noting that not many scouts have earned this merit badge yet. “ … We felt this was a fitting badge for the boys to earn because of being from the Iron Range.”

Beyer also pointed out that merit badges span a range of topics, some of which may spark interest in a scout as potential long-terms goals or even future career options — including mining.

Corie Ekholm, chair of the Northern Subsection of SME, said the camporee went off as planned.

“All has been good,” she said mid-way through the day. “We have beautiful weather, the boys seem very engaged and are learning a lot.”

This was SME’s first time hosting such an event. The goal was to offer an eight-hour, hands-on experience that would result in each participant earning a full badge.

“They really are learning about many aspects of mining — from safety to what the minerals produce after they are mined, to how they are recycled in the afterlife and what really happened in our mining operations,” said Ekholm.

She also noted that SME and Boy Scouts were grateful to the Minnesota Museum of Mining, (MDC) and the local mine for allowing them to utilize their properties.

And if the scouts take just one thing from the day?

“Just how important mining is and how much it plays a role in our everyday lives,” said Ekholm. “Everything we use, most of it comes from something that was mined.”

But that’s not the only main message they took with them

“The biggest thing that seemed to stick with them is how big the mining process is — from turning rock into a product,” said Beyer. “They got a better picture of mining as a whole.”

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