Historically, Whitewood Creek flows through the towns of Lead and Deadwood in the northern Black Hills and into the Belle Fourche River. Homestake began dumping waste from its gold-mining business into Whitewood Creek in about 1877. Until 1984, mining activities by the Homestake Mining Company and other smaller mines have resulted in many changes to this stream. For many years, this water as well as City sewage was then discharged, untreated, directly into Whitewood Creek. Whitewood Creek was a dead stream, heavily polluted with city sewage, fine mine tailings, heavy metals, arsenic, and mercury.
In 1981, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared the creek a Superfund site and ordered Homestake to clean up the creek. The company spent over $100 million on that project. By 1984, Homestake had taken care of the most serious problems resulting from mining, a water treatment plant went into operation to remove cyanide from mine water discharge and all City sewage was now being treated. Gradually, pressured by the Environmental Protection Agency, the State of South Dakota, and many private interests, the stream was cleaned up.
A reclamation plan was developed for an approximately 1,100-meter-long, placer-mined reach of Whitewood Creek near Deadwood, South Dakota. The objectives of the design were to provide a geomorphically stable system that would require minimal maintenance, maintain water quality in the creek, and enhance the habitat-limited trout fishery. The objectives of the project were met by designing an integrated landscape in which both the valley floor and channel of Whitewood Creek function to pass a range of flows and their sediment loads, while maintaining the reach in a dynamically stable condition.
This was accomplished by providing a two-stage channel that maintains reasonable velocities and depths at low flow, but allows the flow energy to dissipate at higher, flood flows by spreading over a wider area. Principles of hydraulic engineering and engineering geomorphology provided a sound basis of design for the project. In spite of at least two flood flows since completion of the project in 1996, the design has proven to be successful in stabilizing the channel, while significantly improving the fishery and riparian habitat conditions within the reach. Damage that occurred during the recent floods was primarily related to overbank erosion that occurred in areas where the revegetation had not had sufficient time to become fully established.
The EPA delisted the site from the Superfund National Priorities List on August 13, 1996.
Whitewood Creek, which was once horribly polluted by runoff from Homestake Gold Mine, is quietly blossoming into one South Dakota’s better streams and trout fishery.
Other points of interest along this path are:
Walk-in Fishery (N 44'24.556 W 103'41.767)
View of Arch (N 44'25.022 W 103'41.695)
Old Railroad Tunnel (N 44'25.168 W 103'41.856)