Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area
211 Austin St
Sumpter, Oregon 97877
Daily: 7AM – 7PM
May 1 – Oct 31
The Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area is nestled in the scenic Elkhorn Mountain Range. Along with its natural beauty, however, this area is a hub for Oregon mining history. The park is dedicated to educating visitors on gold mining history in the Blue Mountains and preserves one of the largest, most accessible dredges in all of the United States. It is a striking reminder of human ingenuity and large scale mining in the early 1900s.
Gold in Sumpter Valley
In 1862, gold is discovered in Sumpter Valley and the Blue Mountains. Veterans of the 1848 California Gold Rush and other ambitious miners, flood the Sumpter Valley. The gold rich beds of the Powder River sustain relatively small mining operations for decades. By the early 1900s, however, all the easy gold had been collected. What remains will require a much larger scale solution. Enter the dredges of Sumpter Valley.
Dredges have a long history in deepening and leveling waterways. It is not a great stretch to add features to isolate pay-dirt and collect gold. A line of buckets pick up rocks, sediment, and (hopefully) gold from the river bed and convey the material into the dredge interior. Steel cylinders grade the rock, splitting it by size. With larger rocks removed, sluices separate gold from sediment. Large rocks, sediment, and any other undesirable material is deposited behind the dredge as tailings.
The design of these floating mining works means that the dredges can not only mine the riverbeds for gold but can even create their own waterways by processing the shoreline. As the dredge progresses, the water ways fill in and keep the dredge afloat.
The relatively low operating costs of the dredge makes this technique an ideal means to access the remaining gold in the Powder River. Sumpter Valley has three dredges built in 1912, 1915, and 1935. While only miles of of tailings remain in evidence of two of these dredges, the Sumpter Valley Dredge remains.
Sumpter Valley Dredge
The Sumpter Valley Dredge is the last of three dredges built in the Powder River. Seventy-two 1-ton buckets shuttled the Powder River floor into the dredge from 1935 until 1954. In the course of its operation, the dredge retrieved over $4 million in gold.
Unlike the other two dredges, that were parted out by the owners on retirement, the dredge is abandoned. The Sumpter Valley Dredge is added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Yet, years of neglect rots wood and rusts steal. It isn’t until the early 1990s that renewed interest in the dredge prompts dredge and the land to be purchased between 1992 and 1993. The park opens to the public in the spring of 1994. By 1995, restoration efforts begin on the dredge itself.
The current state park spans 93.44 acres and hosts 101,614 visitors a year. Along with visiting the dredge itself, visitors can explore a yard of old mining equipment, hike among the tailings, and even pan for gold.