Colstrip, Montana

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Colstrip is a city in Rosebud County, Montana, United States. The population was 2,346 at the 2000 census. Established in 1924 and incorporated as a city in 1998, Colstrip is the largest city in Rosebud County with 25% of the total population. Colstrip's primary industries are coal mining and electricity production. For the Sports Illustrated Magazine's 50th anniversary, it named Colstrip the top sports town in Montana. The entire community celebrates Colstrip Days annually on the weekend prior to the 4th of July. The primary way to travel to Colstrip is by driving. See the video Coal Strip Tease for a driving tour of Colstrip.



Colstrip was established by the Northern Pacific Railway in 1924 as a company town to provide coal for their steam locomotives. The mining is open pit strip mining, where draglines remove soil above the layer of bituminous coal from the Fort Union Formation.[1]

During World War II, the Colstrip mine was identified as strategically important because it supplied coal for the Northern Pacific Railway steam locomotives hauling military equipment for the war effort. The mine was guarded from sabotage, and the employees were not allowed to quit their jobs.[2]

In 1958 the railroad switched to using diesel locomotives and the Colstrip mine was shut down. In 1959 Montana Power Company purchased the rights to the mine and the town, and resumed mining operations in the 1970s with plans to build coal-fired electrical plants.[3]

The power plants were built in the 1970s and 1980s by a collection of contractors including Bechtel. During this construction period Colstrip was a boomtown, with a large increase in population. Plants 1 & 2 were operational in 1975 and 1976, and plants 3 & 4 were operational in 1984 and 1986.

In 1974 construction of Colstrip's 150-acre (0.61 km2) Castle Rock Lake (formerly named surge pond) was completed. The Colstrip plants produce electricity from coal using steam. The water for the steam is pumped in an underground pipe 30 miles (48 km) from the Yellowstone River and stored in the lake. The lake is stocked with fish and the home for a wide variety of wildlife.

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