The Wilds, a Reclaimed Strip Mine in Southeastern Ohio

Big Muskie was the largest excavator ever manufactured. This monstrous machine was 6 stories high and as wide as an 8-lane highway. A single scoop from Big Muskie’s bucket contained 325 tons of rock and dirt, and it could remove 19,000 tons of overfill in an hour. Big Muskie operated from 1969-1991 when the Central Ohio Coal Company, a subsidiary of American Electric Power (a utility corporation), used it to strip-mine at the Muskingham Coal Mine. Eventually, changing economic conditions combined with stricter environmental regulations ended operations at the mine. A 1947 Ohio state law required American Electric Power to restore the land they had destroyed with their strip-mining. Some forest and prairie had never been touched by the mining operation, but many trees and other plants had to be planted. Now, the land has been reclaimed and is known as The Wilds. Since 1984, the land has been used as an area to breed rare and endangered animals in conjunction with the Columbus Zoo.

Location of the Wilds. All the images in this blog entry are from the linked reference below.
Big Muskie, the largest excavator ever manufactured. It operated from 1969-1991 and could remove 19,000 tons of dirt in an hour.
Another view of Big Muskie. It was 6 stories high. A crew of 7 operated it.
Before and after view of the Muskingham Coal Mine, now known as The Wilds. A 1947 Ohio state law required companies that strip mined to restore the land. In conjunction with the Columbus Zoo rare and endangered species are bred here, and native and non-native plants have been planted. It’s also a haven for native wildlife.

The Wilds currently includes 4600 acres of pasture and grasslands with 700 acres of native prairie, 4000 acres of forest, and 1400 acres of ponds, streams, and marshes. The forests consist of oak, maple, ash, beech, and tulip. Native wildlife thrives here, notably deer, bobcat, beaver, and eastern meadowlark. Endangered animals bred in captivity on The Wilds includes 2 species or oryx, Bactrian camels, Bactrian deer, King Pere’s deer, banteng (a species of wild cattle), Persian onager (a species of wild donkey), Pryzelwalski’s horse, zebra, giraffe, white rhino, Asian rhino, Chinese wild goat, African wild dogs, dhole, cheetah, red-crowned crane, trumpeter swan, ostrich, and eastern hellbender. The scimitar-horned oryx was actually extinct at its original range in North Africa, but individuals raised here were used to re-establish a population on their original range. Tourists can take safari tours of The Wilds. If I lived closer, I would definitely visit.



One Response to “The Wilds, a Reclaimed Strip Mine in Southeastern Ohio”

  1. stephenfmccann Says:

    I’ve visited the decommissioned Big Brutus in Southeast Kansas a couple of times. It’s nearly as large as Big Muskie and inflicted the same scars on the surrounding countryside digging for coal. Nearby there are also the withered communities where lead mining bustled about the same time. The EPA has cleaned up most of it in the last few decades. In many cases they had to scrape off the surface of the earth, haul it away, and replace it with uncontaminated soil (I don’t know where the tainted soil finally ended up). A soil scientist I spoke to said he had taken a soil sample from somebody’s backyard in Galena, KS back in the 1990s. It wasn’t until he had returned to his lab in Wichita and analyzed the sample that he realized it was so contaminated, he had technically violated federal regulations for transporting hazardous waste.

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