For the more information about the geologic resources of the National Park Service, please visit

Abandoned Mineral Lands

Geologic Monitoring

Kennecott Mill, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Abandoned mineral lands (AML) are lands, waters, and surrounding watersheds that contain facilities, structures, improvements, and disturbances associated with past mineral exploration, extraction, processing, and transportation, including oil and gas features and operations, for which the NPS takes action under various authorities to mitigate, reclaim, or restore in order to reduce hazards and impacts to resources.

Historically, companies and individuals explored for and extracted a wide variety of metals, minerals, fossil fuels, and mineral materials from lands that are now part of the National Park System. Precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum; and base metals such as copper, lead, and zinc have been extracted. Industrial minerals such as talc, limestone, and borates; building stone; and aggregate materials such as sand and gravel have also been mined. Coal mining and oil and gas development have also occurred in parks. Sites often have waste rock piles (unprocessed, sub-grade mined rock), tailings (mined rock that has been processed to remove the desired commodities), abandoned roads, fuel storage tanks, drainage diversions, buildings such as mills and assay shops, deteriorating structures such as headframes and tramways, and abandoned heavy equipment. Abandoned mineral sites and features are remnants of a time when operators were not required by federal or state laws and regulations to perform reclamation. Now, reclamation is required by agency regulations that implement federal and state laws.

Not surprisingly, the legacy of abandoned mineral lands spans North America. Long before the arrival of Europeans, American Indians mined flint, obsidian, and native copper for tools and weapons, turquoise and other stones for jewelry, and clay for pots and pipes. During the 16th century, the lure of gold and the prospect of great wealth drove Spanish explorers into North and South America. Later gold rushes and “Manifest Destiny” were responsible for Europeans settling much of the western United States. The industrial age of the 19th and 20th centuries introduced large-scale extraction of mineral resources such as coal, copper, and iron, oil, gas, and uranium, leaving significant environmental impacts on the land. Deserted, these sites now stand in silent testimony to those who pioneered this country in search of mineral wealth.

NPS AML Program

The NPS program includes Servicewide and Regional activities to inventory, mitigate, and restore AML sites, as well as efforts to preserve historic mining features and critical habitat.
Learn more...

Inventory Project


The NPS conducted a comprehensive AML inventory and assessment from 2010 to 2013, that identified 37,050 AML features in 133 of the 405 units that make up the National Park System.
Learn more...

Hazards and Safety

desert sunset

Many hazards are associated with abandoned mineral sites, including open shafts, deadly gases, radioactivity, and others.
Learn more...

Environmental Factors

AML sites can have detrimental effects on soils, water, plants, and animals. They can also provide habitat for wildlife including some rare or endangered species.
Learn more...

Mitigation and Restoration

Mitigation and reduction of AML hazards is a priority for the NPS. Additional reclamation efforts focus on reestablishing landscapes and environments to mimic the surrounding undisturbed areas and speed site recovery.
Learn more...

AML Cultural Resources

book cover

Mining activity comprises an important component of our nation's heritage. The National Register's Guidelines for identifying, evaluating, and registering historic mining properties provides information about conserving historic mine sites and artifacts.
Learn more...


Has mining occurred in national parks?

Headframe over inclined shaft at Duchess Mine, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

The answer is yes. In fact, mining still occurs in some parks. Most abandoned mines inside national park boundaries are not from recent mining operations, but from operations that existed before parks were established.

Approximately 2,600 abandoned mineral sites have been identified in the National Park System, in all 7 regions of the system, and in 45 states. This number translates to approximately 23,000 individual features, including adits, shafts, surface mines, and wells. Additionally, the National Park Service estimates that 5,000 miles of abandoned access roads exist in park units that may or may not require reclamation. Abandoned mineral lands are lands that were disturbed by mineral extraction --underground mining, surface mining, dredging, and oil and gas exploration--and then abandoned at a time when miners were not required by state and federal laws and regulations to reclaim their operations. Abandoned mineral lands can be underground with numerous mine openings such as adits and shafts, or on the surface in the form of strip mines, quarries, open wells, or pits. Abandoned mineral lands are not only the actual mine or well, but include access roads and trails, historic buildings such as mills and company towns, tailings and waste rock piles, and abandoned machinery such as ore carts, steam engines, and pump jacks.


Related Links

Key Contacts

John BurghardtJohn Burghardt
AML Program Lead
Geologic Resources Division
12795 West Alameda Parkway
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
(303) 969-2099 (office)
Contact - John Burghardt

Lisa NorbyLisa Norby
Energy and Minerals Branch Chief,
Geoscientist-in-the-Parks & Mosaics in Science Program Manager
Geologic Resources Division
12795 West Alameda Parkway
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
(303) 969-2318 (office)
Contact - Lisa Norby

Geologic Resources Division Mailing Address
National Park Service
Geologic Resources Division
P.O. Box 25287
Denver, Colorado 80225-0287



Last Updated: May 07, 2015