The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

April 24, 2007

Scout unearths chemical; Salt Plains crystal beds under guard, are off-limits to public

The crystal digging area at Salt Plains Wildlife Refuge has been closed indefinitely after a Boy Scout digging for crystals Saturday had a reaction to a mysterious chemical in a vial he unearthed.

Armed guards sealed off the entrance to the 40-acre crystal digging area of the refuge in Alfalfa County. Members of an Army chemical unit will come to the refuge to identify the material.

The boy accidentally broke a glass vial containing a yellow liquid, said refuge manager John Brock. The material caused the boy to cough and his eyes to burn and his nose to run.

“It was pungent enough to make him run away from it,” Brock said.

Brock said he talked to the boy’s father Tuesday, and the boy has not experienced any lingering ill effects.

“That was our first concern. We’ve never had any problems before,” Brock said.

Brock said he and other officials returned to the site later and uncovered as many as 10 more glass vials, which he said are 6 or 7 inches long and sealed on both ends. The vials appeared to have been there a long time, he said.

“We didn’t know what we were dealing with so we backed out,” Brock said. “My worse concern is that there may be something else buried out there.”

He would not speculate on how long the crystal digging area will be closed, but he said this weekend’s crystal digging contest, part of the annual Birding and Crystal Festival, has been canceled. The bird-watching portion and other activities in different areas of the refuge still will be held Saturday and Sunday.

Brock said he did not find out about the incident until Monday and called Alfalfa County Sheriff’s Office. Authorities did not know what they were dealing with and sealed off the area and are maintaining a guard 24 hours a day, he said.

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