Source: Sherman Publications

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Second Front
A field trip to the pit

by CJ Carnacchio

June 02, 2010

Most school field trips involve going to places like museums, zoos, farms or science centers.

Only in Oxford can kids tour a working gravel pit and take home a few rocks as souvenirs.

That's exactly what the Daniel Axford second-graders in teachers Colleen Kazor and Lee Phillips' classes did Friday when they visited American Aggregates of Michigan's Ray Road plant, which is owned by the Detroit-based Edward C. Levy Co.

Scott Carson, vice president and general manager of the natural aggregates division, played tour guide as the two yellow buses rolled through the 1,000-acre operation.

"Oxford is blessed with a lot of sand and gravel," Carson said. "There's been a lot of mining done in Oxford to take care of all of southeastern Michigan's needs for construction material. It's been a very important industry in Oxford."

Carson explained to the kids how the last Ice Age was responsible for the township's abundance of aggregates.

"Oxford obviously was a low area and when the glaciers melted, water carried the sand and gravel, and deposited all this material here," he said.

The kids learned all about process of mining aggregates from digging it out of the ground with cranes and dredges to processing or "washing" the materials, which basically involves separating the gravel into three sizes (oversize, concrete stone and pea gravel) and shaking loose all the sand.

The washing process removes things like clay and silt.

Companies that manufacture concrete and asphalt then purchase their sand and gravel from American Aggregates.

According to Carson, the Ray Road plant sells an average of approximately 5,000 tons of material on a daily basis. Sixty percent is sand and 40 percent is gravel.

"Our primary product is washed sand," he said. "That's our Number One product."

Even though business has been kind of slow over the last six years, Carson said things are starting to get better this year, so the gravel pits won't be leaving anytime soon.

"We're going to be mining here for quite a while," he told the kids.

Once the mining's eventually done, Carson said the property will be reclaimed and most likely sold to a builder.

"We're hopeful they'll be able to build a nice development, some homes, lakefront lots like Waterstone," he said.

As the buses drove past the Ray Road plant's 100-acre lake, which is about 35 feet deep, Carson explained how his company created this body of water by mining deep enough to reach the groundwater supply.

"That lake is actually the top of the water table," he said. "And it's going to get bigger because we're not done digging that lake yet."

Although he was glad to see how excited the kids were about visiting a gravel pit, Carson reminded them that it would be wrong and illegal for them to trespass and visit it on their own.

"Gravel pits in the process of mining are dangerous," he said. "Don't go on gravel pits unless you've got permission and you're with somebody that knows how the gravel pit's all laid out."

At the end of the tour, the kids were allowed to leave their buses and collect rock samples from piles representing the three sizes of gravel.

The kids had a ball climbing the mini-mountains of stone.

Some searched for the biggest rock they could carry, while others looked for colorful or unique specimens.

The lead bus weighed 21,100 pounds at the beginning of the trip, according to the scales used to weigh gravel haulers.

At the end, it weighed 21,500 pounds, meaning the kids had 400 pounds of gravel with them.

That's a lot of pet rocks.