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Family of fallen miner reflect on park that memorializes worst mining disaster in MN history

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CROW WING COUNTY, MN -

Almost 100 years ago, the worst mining disaster in Minnesota's history happened in Crow Wing County. 

It all took place when the Milford Mine collapsed in February 1924, which left 41 people dead. 

On Wednesday, the Milford Mine Memorial Park celebrated their grand opening to honor the miners who lost their lives.

The only memories Jan Samuelson and Carol Piekarski have of their uncle Clinton Harris are these letters he sent to family and friends during the construction of the Milford Mine.

About ten years after those letters were sent, the greatest mining disaster in Minnesota's rich mining history took Harris' life.

"As it goes, he tied the whistle cord to warn everybody around his waist so it would keep blowing and try and get as many people out of the mine as possible," said Samuelson. 

That whistle cord helped save the lives of seven people deep inside the near 200 foot mine - but the mud and water that came with the collapse claimed the lives of Harris and 40 other miners.

"This should not be forgotten. And it should not happen, it should not have happened to begin with, and hopefully we have learned lessons from this," said Piekarski. 

On the old mining grounds, the memorial, which has taken 10 years of planning and construction, is now complete to make sure Harris and everyone who died on that February day will be remembered forever. 

"It's well earned, and it's about time, it was due," said Piekarski. 

One of the many ways the miners are memorialized is with a 450 foot boardwalk, that has the names of all 41 miners who died, and 7 that survived the mine collapse etched into it. The path overlooks the picturesque Milford Lake. 

"It is just a quiet, tranquil, peaceful setting to recreate. Bring a fishing pole. You can fish off the 450 foot boardwalk that goes across the north side of Milford Lake," said Bryan Pike, Crown Wing Natural Resource Manger, who helped organize the project. 

Scattered along the miles and miles of trails, you can still see remains of old machine shops, original mine shafts, plaques and a memorial wall, which all help to tell the stories of the miners who died. 

"It's still kind of captured in time from when it happened, as far as I can tell, and it's just beautiful," said Piekarski. 

It took nine months for crews to clear the mine of mud and water, and recover all of the miners who died. 

After the disaster, the mine re-opened for production, and remained open for about eight years, before it closed in 1932. 

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