Holden: A History

Over the past few weeks, Holden Village has been more than just our home and playground.  It has also been a living classroom, providing opportunities to explore the economics of environmental issues as they manifest themselves all around us.  The present and future of Holden Village are intricately tied to its history.

Origins: The Mine

In 1896, J.R. Holden discovered a large vein of copper ore 4,500 feet up the mountain now known as Copper Peak. Although the isolation of the deposit prevented development for many years, in 1938 the Holden Mine shipped its first load of copper and gold down lake to Chelan. Operated by Howe Sound Mining Corporation, the mine eventually pulled over $66 million dollars of metals out of the mountain. Holden Village was originally designed to provide a home for the miners and their families.  For 19 years, the community thrived. Over 600 people lived in the village, which boasted dormitories, chalets for families, a pool hall, and a number of other amenities. However, when copper prices fell in the 1950's, the mine was forced to close, and in 1957, the last miners left the village.

Rebirth: The Lutheran Retreat

Following the end of mining operations, Holden Village fell into disrepair. The Forest Service, which owns the land on which it stands, burned a number of houses, and it seemed that the village was destined to fade away into the depths of history. However, through the actions of a student at the Lutheran Bible Institute named Wes Prieb, the village was donated to the Lutheran Church to serve as a retreat center. Through the heroic efforts of volunteers, the structures that comprise the village were saved and restored, and a new chapter of life began at Holden Village. Dedicated to providing people with a chance to learn and worship in community, the village once again became a vibrant oasis in the wilderness.

Renewal: The Mine Remediation

Although mining ended in the 1950's, Holden Village's extractive history continued to manifest itself in the valley. Three giant tailings piles, comprising rocks which had been removed from the mine, towered over Railroad Creek across from the village. These rocks, which are high in metals such as iron and aluminum, had been leaching chemicals into the creek for decades, rendering large stretches lifeless. In the late 1980's, the Forest Service began exploring clean up options. After a long and arduous planning process, work to stabilize the tailings and prevent further runoff began in 2010.  Overseen and paid for by mining giant Rio Tinto, these remediation efforts are expected to cost upwards of $200 million, and should be completed in the next few years. Holden Village has had to adapt its routines in light to the ongoing process, but the village is poised to emerge from the remediation process as strong as ever.

The Future: Sustainability by Necessity

As Holden Village looks to the future, one thing is abundantly clear: sustainability and the wise stewardship of resources will continue to be a focus for the community. This springs in a large part from necessity. The village's isolation means that all food and most other materials must be shipped in from down lake. To get around these issues, the Village has developed a number of mechanisms by which to limit its footprint. Holden generates its power using hydroelectricity, with backup provided by wood harvested on site and limited amounts of diesel. Waste reduction is also an important part of life, as composting and recycling are used to futher decrease the waste associated with life in the village. The Holden community places immense value on the wilderness character of its existence, and residents and guests continue to innovate in pursuit of solutions that allow the village to improve its relationship with the natural community of which it is a part.

1950's era snow transport vehicles, still used to in the event of heavy snowfall.
The view from atop tailings pile 2, looking up valley.