On the Road: Treasure Found in the Sierra Foothills

Recently during my travels for the Sierra Nevada Energy Watch project, I came across a group that has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars of work to the Empire Mine State Park in Grass Valley. They call themselves “The Over the Hill Gang.” This local treasure consists of a dedicated group of individuals who contribute their time and expertise to keep the park running and in its prime.

COMM APblog OvertheHillGang 2013 10The Over the Hill Gang (The Gang) has been on the scene since the Empire Mine became a park in 1975. Over the years, members of The Gang have shored up, rebuilt, re-wired, and otherwise made functional various components necessary for keeping the park operating as an important historical destination. The Gang has a core group of volunteers, of which several have put in decades of service, including one man who was actually a “mucker” at the mine back in the 50s. In addition to the Gang working in the park, there are hundreds of volunteers who contribute by specializing in skills such as becoming smithies in the blacksmith shop, serving tea in a Living History setting, or offering garden tours.

The Gang has dozens of ongoing projects, including upgrading the existing lighting in the main and retail areas of the museum to LED lights in order to improve the quality of the lighting, reduce heat in the retail area, and to highlight the sparkle and glitter of the museum displays. Sierra Business Council’s Sierra Nevada Energy Watch Program, in conjunction with Pacific Gas and Electric and the Empire Mine Association, worked with volunteers to complete the project. The new, highly energy efficient lighting uses a fraction of the energy of what the old incandescent lights consumed. Anticipated savings are expected to be in the range of $930 per year. The total project cost was $875.46, so the upgrades will have paid for themselves in under a year! The upgrade was completed thanks to the Empire Mine Park Association, a non-profit organization that funded the project, and of course the Over the Hill Gang who managed the project and installed the new LED lamps.

The Empire Mine Park Association works in close partnership with the park administration and the 250 volunteers that keep the park open, bridging the gap from what the park system can handle and the work necessary to be done on the ground. Volunteers contribute an estimated 22,200 hours annually to the Empire Mine State Park and provide an estimated annual value of $532,000. Volunteers contribute over 22 million dollars in economic value for our state park system overall. For parks with features such as Living History programs, park tours, and constant maintenance requirements, the generous and dedicated contributions of volunteers are invaluable. The beneficiaries of such largesse in many cases are school children who experience the rich and interactive interpretive and educational activities at the park.

We encourage you to visit the park and say “Hi” to the many folks there that are the real treasure at the Empire Mine.