Digging The Outdoors

At The Irvine Ranch Outdoor Education Center in Orange County, Calif., kids are digging into environmental science–below ground.

Campers head underground.

The center leads the way with programs in which children living in a primarily urban environment experience both traditional camp activities and hands-on outdoor academic programs. These activities give them an appreciation for the natural environment while teaching them about the cultural history of the region and the science behind aerospace, astronomy, engineering, mineral science, geology, hydrology, water and natural-resource conservation, plant biology, agricultural science and nature’s interdependence.

Owned and operated by the Orange County Council Boy Scouts of America, the center is located on 210 acres donated by The Irvine Company. It also serves the Girl Scouts, YMCA groups, school outdoor education programs and many other community youth organizations.

One unique element of the center is the Lucy-Lou Mine. It provides experiences that teach the area’s mining history, mineral science, geology and engineering. In the mine, kids get to dig in the dimly lit branch mine shafts, wearing lights on their miners’ hard hats.

Constructing History

Completed in August 2008, the 1,900-square-foot mine was built using concrete tilt-up wall panels and a poured-in-place concrete ceiling. Four hundred cubic yards of concrete and 40 tons of reinforced steel were used in the construction. In some areas, the mine shaft walls are 18 inches thick. The ceiling varies in thickness from 12 to 24 inches. The wall panels were poured on uneven ground with native rocks and simulated geologic formations cast into the surfaces. After the walls were raised and set in place by a large crane, scaffolding was set to support foam blocks covered with dirt to form the ceiling. After the ceiling was poured and the scaffolding removed, the dirt that was still stuck to the ceiling was chiseled, leaving the impression that the chiseling was what excavated the mine. The concrete walls at the entries into the hillside are covered with old-form lumber that gives a shored-timber appearance. The lumber extends above-grade to form a required guardrail around the opening. The stairwell entry and bucket-hoist shaft from the upper level have the same lining. The mine is in a rough horseshoe shape with an entry point into the hillside at each end. Branch shafts and the stairwell are located at the midpoint.

The mine’s two branch shafts are named for the historic mining areas in Orange County–the Blackstar and the Silverado. Both shafts can be loaded with material from the upper level through hatches in the ceiling. The Blackstar shaft features a coal formation formed by combining cement with low-grade lignite coal from a historic spoils pile about two miles from the site. The mixture is non-combustible by fire department standards, and doesn’t create fine dust when chipped out by miners. The mixture is placed in layers in the Blackstar shaft where it can be mined along with other materials buried by staff in the surrounding dirt. The Silverado shaft is similarly salted with various minerals, rock types, geodes and other interesting finds.

The Big Dig

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