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Commission to Hold Meeting on MK Tunnel Project



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This photo shows one of the explosions at the MK tunnels in the year 1948 between Feb. 15 and Oct. 4, 1948.

The Emery County Commission will host an open house at the Museum of the San Rafael on Thurs., Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. for the purpose of allowing the Utah Department of Oil Gas and Mining to present proposed measures affecting the sites locally known as the “MK Tunnels”.
In 1948, when the United States Department of Defense was looking for naturally occurring defenses from air-delivered explosives, its search brought it to the Western flank of the San Rafael Swell. Several horizontal shafts were created, after which varying amounts of explosives were detonated above them at ground level. The relatively soft rock of the Navajo Sandstone probably didn’t perform as well as the hard granite of Colorado where NORAD and other military facilities were ultimately located. There were no military installations developed here. However, the craters that resulted from the detonations, along with the prepared shafts, gained some local notoriety and have come to be known as the “MK Tunnels,” taking their name from Morrison Knudsen, the contractors DOD enlisted to prepare the shafts.

The largest of the MK Tunnels.

In the ensuing 58 years, local travelers and a few out-of-area visitors have roamed in and out of the tunnels, thrown rocks in from the top to determine the depth, and generally wondered at the occurrence of these man made oddities. Fewer and fewer Emery County residents remain that are aware of the MK Tunnels’ history, or even their location.
At a recent Public Lands Council meeting in Castle Dale, Mark Mesch, a representative of the Utah Department of Oil Gas and Mining gave a presentation to the Council which would implement some risk management measures at the sites. According to Gary Riemer, acting Field Manager for the Price Bureau of Land Management Field Office, it is the desire of both BLM and DOD that some measures be taken to reduce the risk of injury or even fatality at the sites. Some of the sites expose visitors to sheer drops of up to 60 vertical feet. The open shafts also allow those visiting the sites to wander, perhaps unknowingly, under thousands of tons of loose and fractured stone.
UDOGM’s abandoned mine program is in the process of closing or rehabilitating old mines throughout Utah. Hundreds of these mines are present in the San Rafael Swell. Local desert wanderers are familiar with the work done at Temple Mountain a few years ago.

MK Tunnels from the air.

Because of their expertise and availability, BLM and DOD have requested UDOGM to assist in creating a safer environment in and around the MK Tunnels. The proposal includes backfilling of some craters, closure of some shafts and a couple of craters with steel bars, which would still allow both visible enjoyment of the tunnels and passage for small animals such as bats. It also leaves some areas unchanged. The proposal could also include some interpretive facilities such as kiosks and signage.
The open house is intended to educate Emery County residents to the nature and extent of the proposal, and also receive input. Mesch states that it is important for the local folks to understand that UDOGM has developed the proposal to meet the desires of BLM and DOD, who are the responsible parties concerning the tunnels. However, the state agency wants to ensure that any management choices that are made are viewed as suitable by the residents of the area as well as the Emery County Commission.

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