BINGHAM CANYON — Six years after 165 million tons of earthen material slipped in a massive landslide at Kennecott's Bingham Canyon copper mine, the company is celebrating the reopening of one of its most popular attractions.
The newly renamed Visitor Experience at the Bingham Canyon Mine is now open. Closed six years ago as the visitor center, the reconceived center now offers exhibits including a full-size haul truck bed and shovel scoop that visitors can walk inside, a replica of a historic mine tunnel, panoramic views overlooking the mine and its operation where visitors can also observe working geotechnical monitoring equipment, said Rio Tinto Kennecott community relations and communications manager Piper Rhodes.
"It took us some time to really think through what kind of new experience that we wanted visitors to have when they came up here," she said. After several years of planning, the new Visitor Experience technically opened last September, she noted, but primarily to stakeholders, employees and their families, along with contractors and their family members as a "sneak peek."
This year, however, is the company's grand opening season and there are many new exhibits for visitors to experience. Displays include a full-size haul truck tire that stands 12 feet tall, the trucks themselves are two stories tall, she said.
"(Visitors) get to feel the size and scale of our operation. They'll get to touch and feel some of our equipment," Rhodes said. "Depending on the mine plan, we produce up to 300,000 tons of copper each year."
The new Visitor Experience brings with it a few changes from the previous iteration. Gone is the old building that used to house the visitor center and the ability to drive cars to the main exhibit area. Now, visitors park in designated lots where they board shuttle buses that transport them to and from the main area.
The experience is open daily from April 1 through Oct. 31, with shuttles running every 30 minutes beginning from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the last one returns by 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 each and children under 5 are free. All proceeds are donated to the Kennecott Charitable Foundation, which helps positively impact the local comnmunity, Rhodes said.
Visitors must make a reservation for the day of their visit, either online or onsite at the Bingham Canyon Lions Gift Shop, according to the website. Tickets must be printed or be available via mobile device for scanning upon shuttle entry.
Opened in 1906, Bingham Canyon Mine is the largest man-made excavation on Earth, the company website states. The mine has been in continuous operation since and produced millions of tons of metals and minerals, said Rio Tinto spokesman Kyle Bennett.
The mine measures 2.75 miles across and three-quarters of a mile deep. "It's one of the largest mines in the world," he said.
Today, the company employs almost 2,000 workers, including hundreds tasked with mine operations.
Rio Tinto Kennecott is the second largest copper producer in the United States, supplying about a quarter of the country's copper, she said. Besides copper, Rio Tinto Kennecott produces copper, gold, silver molybdenum and sulphuric acid, she added.
The slide that caused the visitor center closure occurred in April 2013 in the northeast section of the mine. No employees were injured, but roads, buildings and vehicles inside the pit were damaged.
At the time, Kennecott engineers had been detecting ground movement for about two months and warned nearby residents about an impending slide. Though the movement amounted to just fractions of an inch, it was enough for the company to close the mine's visitor center.
With the new Visitor Experience now available, people are starting to take advantage of the opportunity to revisit an old landmark.
Salt Lake resident Dan Scott, 37, first came to the mine when he was a child years ago. Today, he relishes the opportunity to bring his 5-year old son and 2-year old daughter to the place he found so fascinating as a kid.
"It's fun for me to bring the kids because it's something I remember from my childhood," he explained. "I appreciate the fact that this is in our backyard. The scale and size of the whole thing are pretty impressive. It's fun to see them get excited about it and experience it for the first time."