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Minnesota is closing a state park in the Mesabi Iron Range near Grand Rapids to turn the land back into an active mine.

A reclamation company wants to capture the vast waste pilings at Hill Annex Mine State Park in Calumet that were built up during its decades as an iron mine, then process commercial iron ore out of the piles. To prepare for that, the state park has to close.

The state House and Senate have pushed forward proposals to decommission the state park, which could happen in the coming weeks. Calumet Reclamation hopes to start processing the ore by next spring, said Mike Liljegren, an assistant director for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Cliffs Nashwauk also has proposed a project to start mining the site again by 2029 and taking the ore by train to Hibbing Taconite, Liljegren said.

The site, last mined about 50 years ago, was abandoned before state reclamation laws existed. Lawmakers turned the 625-acre site, primarily made up of the old mine pit, into a state park in the 1980s. But the idea always was to keep the land available for the mine if a company came along to revitalize it, said Ann Pierce, director of the DNR's parks and trails division.

"A park may not be the best use of this site," Pierce said.

Hill Annex Mine is one of Minnesota's least popular parks. Only 2,500 people visited in 2017, the last year the state kept records.

Rising water levels at abandoned pits have become problems for the state and nearby small towns. The Hill Annex pit is about 40 feet shy of flooding, and has been rising from 5 to 7 feet every year, said Calumet Mayor John Tuorila.

"That means we've got maybe seven or eight years left before [flooding] happens," Tuorila said.

The state once offered pontoon boat rides across the pit as it steadily filled with groundwater and rain, but the boat rides have stopped as the shoreline has eroded. Bus tours that took visitors deep down into the mine became shorter each year as water levels rose. Years ago, the bus failed an inspection and the tours stopped.

Tuorila grew up in Calumet, a town of about 300, and remembers the red dust that would blow from the mine and cover the cars, homes and clothes of everyone who lived there. He has spent much of his 17 years as mayor trying to get the state to invest in the park, to keep it open and water levels manageable.

The University of Minnesota used to host annual fossil tours, where people combed through the ore piles and upturned rock and earth that had spent millions of years underground. They would find shark teeth and other relics. Those tours, too, have stopped, Tuorila said.

The park is now open only in the summer for two days a week. Public areas now consist mainly of an overlook site and a mining museum that was created at the old Hill Annex clubhouse, where single miners would rent rooms and hold dances.

Tuorila said he will be sad to see the park close, but he knows the potential for new jobs and tax money can't be easily passed up — as well as the opportunity to find someone to start pumping water from the pit. He said the museum at the old clubhouse probably can't be saved, but he hopes that artifacts from the town and the mine can be salvaged and put on display.