The mid-to-late 1800s saw a migration of people searching for wealth heading to the Mountain West. The gleam of gold, silver and other minerals was just too hard to resist.

According to a diorama at Eleven Mile State Park:

“Gold was discovered in the streams of South Park in 1859. By 1860, 11,000 people were living in the shanty towns and mining camps that sprang up.

“Within a decade, the grizzly and wolf were hunted to extinction. Streams were virtually sterilized by dredges and hydraulic hoses. Mountainsides were stripped of trees. Herds of deer, elk and antelope were decimated.”

I personally have trouble being proud of our mining forefathers, not only knowing those facts, but as I hike around the high country.   Seeing the ruins of mining is, I admit, sometimes fascinating but nonetheless still an eyesore to the beauty of Colorado. History is history, it’s the past. New generations serve themselves well when they learn from the past.

Mining’s heyday in Park County lasted only about 20 years, and while some serious mining persisted, its economic viability in the area ended with the removal of the dredge south of Fairplay in the 60s.

What replaced mining? The beauty and solitude of the mountains did. People in the Front Range and other parts of the country began to notice Park County. It was close enough, with lots of wild game and fish, cooler temperatures in the summer and plenty of places to camp and explore.

Front Range water needs caused the development of more recreational opportunities with the building of reservoirs. Inexpensive land added to the list of Park County’s attributes, and all of a sudden people started deciding they wanted to either live in these old mining towns or have a getaway second home.

Over the next 50 years, subdivisions sprang up everywhere, even right next to mining claims. Many of the claims seemed forgotten, trees sprang up in the midst of the rubble, zoning laws became more refined and seemed to protect those investing in homes near mining.

In Fairplay, becoming a residential community became important, and free enterprise began to provide all the amenities the people needed.

In the last 15 years, Fairplay has come to enjoy a new school, modern businesses like a supermarket and a major hardware store, many quality restaurants, an equipped recreation center and a rejuvenated historic business district on Front Street.

Without income from elsewhere, Fairplay, a town of 700, would be lucky to have one sandwich shop and a gas station. It’s important to pay attention to who pays the bills.

Many towns in the West recognized that the new income base derived from tourists and potential second-home owners was impeded by the visual impact of mining’s remnants.

Modern equipment leveled gravel piles, restored original stream beds and planted trees. Due to the ineffectiveness of the Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mining at reclamation, some towns like Breckenridge had to actually buy land zoned for mining and reclaim it themselves.

In spite of the public cost, the goal was clear: commemorate mining with museums, but do everything you can to reclaim the land destroyed by previous mining activity.

In Park County, personal incomes from mining has long been replaced by ranching and eventually tourism and second-home building. Today, according to the census, only 1.8 percent of county employment comes from mining and oil and gas exploration.

In spite of this fact, and the obvious residential nature of our towns, our county leadership, without the apparent support of research, has placed few limitations on mining in the county.

In contrast, their contemporaries in other counties are regulating that industry based on the modern nature of their locales, usually protecting residential and tourism interests.

In fact, in a recent discussion with a large aggregate company in Park County, I asked why they were willing to bear the cost to haul materials all the way to the Front Range. I asked “Is this because there is not quality or quantity of materials available to you closer, or this legislative?”

The answer they gave me, legislative. This means that other locales are deciding to set stringent regulations regarding mining and the aggregate industry.

So what is Park County’sfuture? Do we want tourists to stop in our towns, spend some nights, buy things in our little shops, eat in our restaurants and view us as a base camp for all the things you can do here in the mountains?

Do we assume that all this money that flows up U.S. Highway 285  or down Colorado Highway 9 will continue if the drive here is the opposite of scenic, as is now happening between Alma and Fairplay?

Are we at all concerned about the safety of our beloved route to Denver, Highway 285, now that it is being congested with much more aggregate truck traffic?

Or have we determined that we can replace the positive direction of the last 50 years and go against the grain of almost all former mining towns in the west, by embracing the industry that we were in the 1800s?

In the future, let’s make the right decisions for Park County.

(1) comment

Rex Mueller

Frankly sir, if it's not mined or farmed it can't be manufactured..

Like it or not mining is a necessary part of modern society, yes, even placer mining for Gold.

Minerals are required for every product we use which is not produce by farmed.
While the high and mightly eco-warrior sees tailing piles, those tailing piles did a load to build this country.

there is value even in that for aggregate for our county roads.
While you may find these tailing piles a scar, i see the thousands of hours toiled to bring precious metals into our economy through the effort of the miners.
it is easy to sit behind a desk and hate on mining, when in fact the computer you typed your message with would not exist without mining. Park county benefits from not only precious metal mining such as gold, but amazing gems throughout the county, ALL of which can be mined for value. It amazes me to this day how ignorant people are of placer mining.
The fact is modern placer mining is one of the more efficient methods of cleaning heavy metals from our streams and rivers. In addition to collecting gold, mercury and other "heavies" which would other wise remain in the environment is removed with the gold in modern placer technique.

Since you see this as a Land use issue, modern stream bed placer activities have been proven to improve gravel bars by removing silts and sediments improving the stream beds for aquatic fauna.
I personally spend days along the arkansas, fairplay city beach, granite, enjoying moving a few buckets of gravel for hobby, I am a recreational prospector. Most gold claims in colorado can be used with correct permitting for commericial activity, however most claims are small claims worked by individuals on weekends who are trying to supplement income. Commercial ventures are costly, once a piece of heavy equipment is required a different set of rules is applied to insure reclamation is handled as part of the operation.

It might pay for anyone who thinks mining is a dead industry would serves themselves by spending a 1'/2 day at the Leadville Museum, while your at it, get a gold pan and stop up at the BLM area near Granite which is set aside for recreational prospectors and pan a little bit for yourself.

Also, guess what, aggregate and mineral production mines are already under the scrutiny of
"how did you say it? " oh yes.. "stringent regulations" OSHA, MSHA, EPA, along with state and county agencies. these guys can't crack a beer without getting one of a thousand agencies breathing down their necks like starving dogs to a bone.

I find it laughable the level ignorance most people have about mining. Dude, give me your computer. It wouldn't exist without a miner and a mine. Claiming NIMBY is a common threat to miners. This movement by marxist ecowarriors to destroy much of what made this country great, is under assault using the Not in my back yard mantra. these mines and the right to mine them has before since 1868, when the mining act was passed.

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