Mining projects, proposed or advanced, are known for their controversial character. They are a lightening rod for political, emotional and economic debate.

While mining in the Marinette and Menominee region may not be as huge as it is in the northern reaches of the Upper Peninsula, the East or the far Western states, it has had a few proposed projects over the years that stirred the debates in local political halls. Menominee County currently has a project in the works. The Kennecott project in the Yellow Dog Plains in the Marquette region has been a bone of contention. Many area folks will recall the bitterly fought mining issue at Crandon, Wis., a few years back.

I was a reporter at the Eagle-Star during the “Duval Mining Project” in Marinette County in the early 1970s. A sharply-divided county board reached an agreement with Duval Corp., a company based in Houston, Texas, for prospecting and mining rights on county forest land. The project area included the towns of Pembine, Beecher, Niagara, Dunbar and Athelstane, and was spread over 11,640 acres. The bickering lasted for three years and filled the county board room and hallways at the courthouse with opinionated people. There was no shortage of copy for reporters.

Many citizens may not realize it, but Marinette County had an oil exploration project going in the early 1940s. It took a world war to stifle the project. The county was still reeling from the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the opposition to the plan to explore for oil wasn’t nearly as combative as the modern-day mining issues. People needed work, and politicians needed revenue to run government.

The county board approved a resolution that leased 100,000 acres of land, including forest growth, to a pair of Chicago businessmen, one a cosmetic manufacturer. The deal was made in the fall of 1941 and the exploratory work was to be completed in 90 to 120 days, meaning early 1942. World War II burst forth Dec. 7, 1941, and blew up the proposed project. The 10-year agreement never resumed after WWII ended in the summer of 1945.

There was another mining project that attracted attention from investors in the late 1930s, but never received much recognition in public life. This project involved exploration of a mineral known as molybdenite, a disulfide of the chromium family. Molybdenum, a rare form of the metal, is used in the hardening of steel and reportedly can produce a better quality than the tungsten group.

I won’t feign being a mining engineer, geologist or have any clue about minerals. Digging into old newspapers and the latest encyclopedia books, talking to people who know something about molybdenite and asking a lot of questions was my way of mining for this column.

Karl Baumann of Marinette, a retired forester and a local history buff, tipped me off on the molybdenite project, a short-lived project at that, but nevertheless turned out to be an interesting news clue. The more I dug into the mineral and its exploratory blueprint in Marinette County, the more curious I became.

Baumann provided me with a newspaper clipping from the old Wausaukee Independent to get me started, and then I turned to my reporter’s investigative instincts for the rest. Molybdenum is not found free in nature. It is a relatively rare element, and is about as abundant as tungsten, which it resembles. Carl W. Scheele, a Swedish chemist, had a lot to do with the advancement of the mineral as far back as 1778. At the time of the interest in Marinette County in 1938, 75% of the world’s supply of molybdenite ore came from mines in Climax, Colo.

Drilling and blasting operations commenced on a small scale to determine the extent of the mineral at old Camp Five in Middle Inlet. Camp Five was a well-known logging operation set up by the Peshtigo Lumber Co., one of the premier lumber and logging operations in this part of the country, dating to the 1850s and beyond.

After the timber boom faded in the early 1900s, a Montana rancher made an attempt to raise sheep on the Camp Five land. The rancher, a Mr. Weech, pulled back after a three-year trial and sold to another man by the name of Cobb who quit after one year. William McCaskey acquired ownership of the tract of land, but didn’t do much with it until he discovered a showing of molybdenite in a granite outcrop on the property. He formed a company with several business partners outside the area and the mining exploration was soon under way in the spring of 1938.

Drilling was performed with steel points, using compressed air, for the purpose of dynamiting. Workers followed a crack or seam which they hoped would lead them to perform tunneling work later in the operation. The drilling took place on a high rock cliff overlooking a branch of the Eagle River.

Samples of molybdenite unearthed at Camp Five were assessed at the Allis-Chalmers plant in Milwaukee. Tests showed the mineral to be of unusually high content. Obviously, the hopes of the investors and miners soared following the test results.

Questions still arose, however, because any future investments would be costly. If a large quantity of the mineral was discovered, the investors intended to build a mill where the molybdenite would be separated from the rock formations before it was reduced to pure molybdenum. The investors, including some local and others from Appleton, Wis., envisioned a lucrative discovery because the mineral could be used in the manufacture of automobile frames and other steel products in which hardness is a critical factor. The prospectors were forced to abandon their dream because mining costs would have been prohibitive.

John Nowicki owns a large chunk of the former Camp Five tract of land, about 300 acres. A retired engineer from Allis-Chalmers, Nowicki initially bought the land for hunting, fell in love with the territory, and decided to build a permanent home after he retired. Baumann also alerted Nowicki to the interesting history of Camp Five and the mining prospects. Nowicki says some remnants of the mining exploration is still visible, from the foundation to hoppers, air vents and shaft.

The old mining stories are an important part of local history. Who knows the path history would have taken us had the oil and mineral exploration projects been successful.