To Fight Dying Demand for Coal, County Tries Mining for Tourists
Folks in Cambria County, Pa., are hoping their newest tourist attraction doesn’t live up to its name.
Seldom Seen Coal Mine hasn’t seen any mining in decades, but residents of this county’s once-bustling coal and steel towns think it could still revive their faltering economy. High school students, retired miners and other townspeople recently rallied to turn the run-down coal mine into a vacation mecca, complete with mining museum, gift shop and guided tours into the hillside.
From this past January to June, townspeople went deep into the earth to lay track for mining carts, replace electrical line and fortify the mine’s crumbling roof.
Even 75-year-old Walter Prozialeck sweated with an ax on Saturdays, helping to clear rotten wood from beneath the tracks.
``It kept you in shape,″ says 61-year-old former miner Ted Ott, now Seldom Seen’s business manager. ``We all lost our fat stomachs.″
Resurrecting Seldom Seen was no small feat. The mine produced coal from the early part of this century until 1963, and was a tourist attraction until 1991, when dwindling numbers of visitors forced it to close. Four years later, when the county decided to revitalize the mine, the abandoned facility had been pillaged both by vandals and time. Lamps and electrical line had been stolen from the tunnels. The mining museum’s windows had been broken with rocks. The patio where tourists had once gotten into carts had caved in with the weight of accumulated snow. ``I never in this God’s world thought we could get this together,″ says Mr. Ott.
Nearly $1.3 million was needed for renovations, a seemingly impossible sum.
Under the guidance of state Rep. Gary Haluska, the county pulled together. Lumberyards and other mines donated materials. The state government chipped in $75,000. Former miners arrived daily, loaded down with personal artifacts like old dinner buckets and lamps for the museum.
Today some 100 visitors daily are paying five dollars to be outfitted with bona fide miners’ hats and to ride deep into the hillside.
Mr. Ott is encouraged by the number of visitors. ``People are passing the word around real good,″ he says. ``After all, you can see more on these back roads than on those superhighways. That’s for sure.″