Towering, snowcapped mountains radiate morning sunlight as you snap on snowshoes for a winter hike in the North Cascade mountains of Washington. Crossing a footbridge, you gaze down at Railroad Creek, a clear mountain stream whose rocky bed shines strangely orange from residue left after decades of ore mining.
This is the paradox of Holden Village.
A remote Lutheran retreat center on the edge of Glacier Peaks Wilderness, Holden Village has operated for 50 years in the shadow of massive piles of tailings from an abandoned copper mine. The village — originally occupied by the miners — and mining residue share a narrow alpine valley on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
After decades of studies and debates, the federal government has decreed it time to clean up the mine site. Costing at least $100 million, it's the largest remediation project within the national forest system, involving numerous governmental agencies, a Native American tribe and Rio Tinto, one of the world's largest mining corporations.
For Holden, the project could have spelled disaster. Over the next two years or more, hundreds of construction workers and massive machinery will disrupt the peace of Railroad Creek Valley, leaving little or no room for the village's summer programs and thousands of guests. The village will continue to welcome guests in late fall, winter and early spring. But in summer when remediation work is in full force, Holden will welcome volunteer crews to work on its projects.
Surprise has long been at the core of the Holden legacy, and disruption is bringing with it a number of pleasant surprises, say Stephanie and Chuck Carpenter, Holden'swife-husband executive director team.
"We're trying to see all the opportunities in this, and we see a theme of surprising opportunities emerging over and over," Chuck said. "The biggest surprise is the gift of God's grace in our lives. This is just another kind of surprising gift and opportunity that we are graced with."
He noted the opportunities to upgrade some of the village's 75-year-old facilities and infrastructure, to extend Holden's ministry to mine remediation workers and to reach out by putting the village's programming "on the road." The biggest surprise, the Carpenters say, is that this long-awaited and sometimes dreaded project is actually happening.
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© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers