Dan Banghart, general manager of Golden Sunlight Mine, not only wore a light pink dress shirt last Thursday, his entire office was decorated in the color typically regarded as feminine.

It was for a good cause.

The mine's Canadian-based owner, Barrick Gold Corp., is making a donation to St. James Healthcare in conjunction with October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. On Thursday, it appeared most of the workers had on some element of pink. How much Barrick will donate depends on how much pink the miners wore for a couple of different days this month.

That's not all that's new at Golden Sunlight, northeast of Whitehall.

The mine is placing emphasis on an awareness of its environmental impact, Banghart said. Despite the fact that the now closed open pit — and the current "2Bug" underground tunnel — rely on pumping groundwater to stay dry, Golden Sunlight has put focus on environmental issues such as water conservation. It is also working with Montana Tech toward improving reclamation. Last week Golden Sunlight planted 100 shrubs and trees, including juniper and Douglas fir, on certain dumps around the mine's property. (See information box.)

Montana Tech professor Robert Pal said Tech just signed a small contract with the mining company to establish restoration test sites with Golden Sunlight.

"The goal is to find the best adopted species and planting techniques at their site," Pal said via email.

The mine is also leasing land with reclaimed tailings to a local rancher for cattle grazing.

But perhaps the biggest change at Golden Sunlight is the operating 2Bug underground mine.

The open pit closed in the fall of 2015 when Golden Sunlight laid off the majority of its workers due to slope instability and then slumping gold prices.

As the price of gold has recovered somewhat, Golden Sunlight's contractor, Redpath Group, in 2Bug has built a spider's web of tunnels behind the walls of the quieted pit.

Banghart said gold hasn't enjoyed the same "bump" that copper has since President Donald Trump's election, but the price has improved. As of Monday afternoon, gold sold at $1,276 an ounce. Two years ago, The Montana Standard reported the price of gold as depressed and at a five-year low at $1,100 an ounce.

The miners still drive down into the old Mineral Hill Pit to get to the portal for 2Bug, but some of the pit ledges have sloughed, and the dirt lies in the bottom of the pit.

Clint Mortensen, chief underground engineer, estimates that Redpath extracted 10,000 ounces of gold from the bottom of the pit after the sloughing took place.

Within about a year, Golden Sunlight estimates it will open a new tunnel — the Apex. (See related story.) That underground gold mine won't connect to 2Bug. It will be above the water table and is just north of the current operation.

Sean Chabot, Redpath's project superintendent, said that since they began work inside 2Bug nearly two years ago, the Canadian-based mining contractor has brought in a subcontractor, French-based Foraco International SA, to drill and added about one-third new jobs to the project. He says 85 percent of the Redpath employees live in Montana.

Stephen McCulloch spends 11 hours each work day underground. He drills 500 feet of holes for explosives and said the job suits him just fine.

"I wouldn't want a regular job. That's pretty scary," McCulloch said.

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Environmental and Natural Resources Reporter for the Montana Standard.

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