TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Excavators rumble across mounds of rock at the Big Springs Quarry as construction workers hustle through the heat — all a stark contrast to nearby grasslands where waterfowl nest and catfish churn the surface of ponds.

At the 2,000-acre Big Springs quarry, workers are mining everything from crushed rock used to pave roads to boulders that might make a garden centerpiece. It is exactly as anyone would expect a limestone quarry to look: mountains of aggregate, water trucks spouting flumes to dampen dust along the roadways and heavy machinery trundling through the landscape smashing rock.

But on the nearly 200 acres where Mid-States has reclaimed previously mined land, well-stocked ponds and rolling green hills are a testament to what can happen with focused efforts to bring the land back to its original state.

The quarry, operated by Mid-States Materials LLC, straddles the Douglas and Shawnee county lines, near the intersection of N. 1700 Road and E. 50 Road.

Mid-States, a subsidiary of Topeka's Bettis Asphalt & Construction Inc., recently won the 2018 Outstanding Reclamation Award (Non-Coal) from the National Association of State Land Reclamationists for its work at Big Springs. The work also was previously honored with three state awards, the Governor's Mined Land Reclamation Award.

Cole Anderson, Mid-States environmental, health and safety manager, is in charge of the reclamation process. It's fulfilling, he told the Topeka Capital-Journal , to watch the land slowly go back to its original — or an even better — condition. It is also a challenging two- or three-year process, which is done in several phases.

"When you first initially develop reclamation, putting it back to the plan is probably the most difficult part," Anderson said. "You never know what's underneath the surface. You don't know if you're going to hit voids or extra shale seams. And then trying to make sure that you finish during the seed season . . . if you finish now, you wouldn't get anything to grow."

The counties and the state require that mined land be reclaimed, but it's something Mid-States is committed to do because the company, which owns 20 quarries around the state, is environmentally conscious, Anderson said.

"Being that this industry is extremely sensitive to neighbors, we want to do the right thing," he said, adding that the company also has numerous hunters who like to see Mid-States support waterfowl and wildlife habitats.

The landowners direct the end result of the reclamation, determining whether they want land suitable for row crops, natural habitat or pasture land.

Anderson said the reclamation process starts during the initial mining, as all the topsoil is saved and used to create berms around each phase. When the mining is done, they are able to push the topsoil back into place to create the desired landscape, working as they go so reclamation can successfully occur. The planning process is important because they don't want to rob a neighbor of water or water rights as they lay out the new terrain, he said.

Mid-States works with Quail Unlimited to determine the best seeds and native grasses to use.

"We planted these American plum trees, and they provide cover," Anderson said. "We get them from K-State, and they provide cover for bird habitat."

Mid-States planted more than 900 trees, released 100,000 fish into three newly created ponds and used more than 10,000 hours of employee time to finish the Big Springs reclamation project. It was created as a wildlife habitat with no agricultural uses planned for it.

"Our goal was to leave the land aesthetically pleasing as a wildlife habitat, but to also have meaning for future generations," Eric Bettis, Mid-States' managing member, said on winning the award. "We're really excited to celebrate this award to show what can happen when a company responsibly mines."


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal,