The Crystal Dig Area at Great Salt Plains near Cherokee Oklahoma has been closed to the public since April of 2007, when vials from Chemical Agent Identification Sets were found in the area by a boy scout. The vials were used to train troops during World War II to recognize chemical agents. The vials contained diluted mustard, lewisite, chloropicrin, and undiluted phosgene. The final report from the Corps of Engineers recommends the use of educational materials to warn the public of potential hazards. The report states: “it is unlikely that munitions and explosives of concern (MEC) or Chemical Agent Identification Sets (CAIS) remain at the project site. It can not be stated with certainty, however, that no MEC or CAIS remain.”
Reopening day was April 25, 2009 and many happy crystal diggers were on hand. The Crystal Dig Area has been a popular destination for school groups, scouts, tourists, birders, and rock hounds for many years. An estimated 30,000 visitors are at the area annually to dig for the selenite crystal with its unique hour glass inclusion. This is the only known site where these crystals are found. The selenite crystal is designated as the Oklahoma State Crystal. A video is posted on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qYDZ3ehNz8 that gives first time diggers the lowdown on what to take and what to expect.
The re-opening coincided with the annual Birding and Heritage Festival held in Alfalfa County. The Selenite Crystal Dig Area is located on the salt flats of Salt Plains NWR. The salt flats provide important habitat for nesting and migrating shorebirds including interior least terns and snowy plovers. Recent surveys indicate that Salt Plains NWR is the most important area in the United States for snowy plovers.