Patagonia has one bar, one coffee shop, one gas station. And customers at nearly all of them are divided between those in favor of a new mining project in this tiny southeastern-Arizona town and those against it.
Roughly half of Patagonia’s 900 residents support Arizona Mining Inc., a Canadian company that recently bought land near town for exploratory drilling. The rest oppose the mining company, seeking to preserve the region’s unique rare wildlife and steer the economy away from mineral extraction and toward environmental restoration.
Arizona Mining Inc. has vowed to create an estimated 500 jobs through a mine it plans to have up and running in 2020. In July, the company predicted the mine will extract 10,000 tons of minerals per day and could be viable for eight years.
Abandoned mines speckle the mountains around Patagonia, which is 20 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border and an hour’s drive from Tucson. Mining surged here after the United States acquired present-day Southern Arizona from Mexico in 1853. Silver, lead, copper and gold lured newcomers, despite the threat of Apache raids.
Mining thrived here until after the end of World War II, when demand for metals fell and the ore bodies dried up. The railroad shut down, and by the 1960’s mining had nearly disappeared. Today, Santa Cruz County has no active mines and there has been no significant mining in the region for decades.
After the miners left, artists and hippies moved in. Property was cheap and the mountains provided an abundance of artistic inspiration. “They really changed the flavor of the town to more of an artsy-type community,” said Gooch Goodwin, a Patagonia native who comes from a long-time ranching family and remembers newcomers infusing the town with fresh energy.