Opens Saturday for weekend tours
By Allen Payton
On Thursday, May 20, 2021 officials and staff of the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) were joined by local officials to celebrate the opening of the new coal mine exhibit at the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. Following speeches of gratitude and congratulations they held a ribbon cutting inside the sand mine in front of the entrance to the new exhibit.
It will take visitors back in time to a realistic 1870’s-era coal mine, complete with sights and sounds. The immersive educational experience will allow for greater understanding and appreciation of the area’s coal mining past.
Ira Bletz, Regional Manager, Interpretive & Recreation Services for EBRPD said the whole effort took two years, including carving out the area inside the mine and the development of the display. While the mine was being worked on to make room for the exhibit, the display was being developed at another location. It was then disassembled, brought to the mine and reassembled for the exhibit. The fake rock was bolted to the real rock.
New district general manager, Sabrina Landreth said, about her staff, “it’s a joy to see the fruits of their labor”.
Board of Directors Vice President Colin Coffey, who represents East County, said, “the exhibit shows what it was like working in the mine in the early 20th Century.”
“You are the first public visitors in the mine since 2019,” he stated. “As of today, Black Diamond Mines is happy to welcome guests, here.”
Director Beverly Lane and Board president, Dee Rosario were also in attendance for the event.
Antioch Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson and Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock, as well as city manager Ron Bernal, and Parks & Rec Commission Chair Marie Arce attended.
Wilson spoke, recognizing “the East Bay Regional Parks District for their commitment to the community” and thanked them for keeping parks open during COVID-19.
“Thank you for sharing our history and stories of our rich heritage,” she added. “I’m really happy this is going to be available to our residents, our youth.”
During her remarks, Pittsburg Councilwoman Shanelle Scales-Preston shared the fact that “Pittsburg was first named Black Diamond because of the coal mines.”
Representatives from Congressman Mark DeSaulnier and Assemblyman Tim Grayson read letters from them and Assemblyman Jim Frazier, congratulating the parks district for the opening of the exhibit.
Former General Manager Bob Doyle spoke about the background of the new exhibit and his own experience in one of the now closed coal mines.
“It was John Waters’ vision. He came up with this idea,” Doyle stated.
According to the display inside the mine, “the Hazel-Atlas Mining Museum and Greathouse Visitor Center are two of the many accomplishments of Waters,” who “began his career with the East Bay Regional Park District in 1968 as a Park Ranger. Later, as Resource Analyst, he designed Black Diamond’s parking lot, picnic areas and water system. John eventually became Black Diamond Park Supervisor, and later served as the Preserve’s first Mine Manager, a position he held until his retirement in 2006.”
“I was privileged in 1977 to actually go into the last open coal mine…in Nortonville,” Doyle shared. “The exhibit has the photos from the actual coal miners. No one had been in there for 110 years. It had the corral for the animals that were used to haul the coal. The middle of the track was worn out from the animals pulling the coal mine.”
“Our gas meters went off and we took as many photos, and got out. That has been permanently closed off. Four boys snuck in and died about four years, later,” he continued. “It’s important we recognize the safety by the parks district and the hard, hard life the early workers had, here.”
“This is an incredibly huge, 6,000-acre park and someday there will be an entrance from the Nortonville side, which was the largest town in the area,” Doyle added
“It’s a history that’s often hidden and one we take great pleasure in sharing with you,” said Kevin Damstra, Supervising Naturalist in charge of both the exhibit and the Black Diamond Mines park.
“The exhibit includes background noise of coal mining including voices of Welsh and Welsh accented English,” he shared. “There were also Irish, Italian and Chinese miners, out here, for a while.”
The coal mining lasted from 1865 to 1908 and then the sand mining from 1920 to 1945,” Damstra shared.
The Black Diamond Mines Hazel Atlas Mine is located at the south end of the Somersville Road in Antioch. The exhibit is open for four tours each Saturday and Sunday beginning tomorrow, May 22. To schedule yours contact the parks district at (510) 544-2750 or Toll Free: 888-EBPARKS (888-327-2757), option 3, extension 4506, or visit www.ebparks.org/parks/black_diamond/. The sand mine will not be open until June. It’s cold inside the mine and wearing something warm is recommended.