Coal Camp could turn gold with state historic site designation |

Coal Camp could turn gold with state historic site designation

Greg Masse

An overgrown relic of a coal mining town could, within a few months, become a state-recognized historic site.

Glenwood Springs city officials nominated South Canyon’s Coal Camp to receive a spot on the state’s Most Endangered Places list. If chosen, the city would receive funding to restore and maintain the site.

Coal Camp, for lack of a better – or any other – name, was an early 20th Century mining town, up South Canyon west of Glenwood Springs. What once was a bustling town of 300 people, a thriving coal mine, homes, offices and a railroad has been replaced by trash and sluggard campfire rings and covered by more than 50 years of overgrowth.

The people of Coal Camp lived and worked within the steep-walled canyon for around 40 years.

The Boston and Colorado Coal Co. dining hall seated 80 men. The camp also had a store, church, library, 27 cottages, a blacksmith shop, a large bunkhouse and even its own post office, according to local historian Jim Olp, who participated in Friday’s walk-through of the site.

“The town was going from the early 1900s to the 1940s,” Olp said.

Many of Glenwood Springs’ early residents lived and worked in Coal Camp before finally moving east to the city.

There are still many remnants of the camp. Mine entrances, house foundations, cable that would have been used for coal cars, railroad track pieces, machinery and walls are scattered throughout the brush.

The stories they harken back to and the lessons they teach, city officials say, are worth preserving.

“I think one of the interesting things about this spot is how nature is reclaiming a town,” city planner Mike Pelletier said. “It also shows that it’s a place where man trashed it – and it’s still dirty.”

Mine tailings are piled in numerous spots. The water is polluted and there are large patches where vegetation never grew back.

“It has lessons for towns now – don’t pollute,” he said.

Those are among the reasons why the site was nominated for Colorado’s Most Endangered Places list.

The purpose of the list is to raise awareness about the state’s threatened historic, archaeological and cultural resources.

Kristen Ashbeck, a volunteer representative for the Most Endangered Places program, took a tour of the site Friday, taking a camera and a rating sheet to document the condition of the site and why it is threatened.

Ashbeck will turn her findings in, and from there Coal Camp will compete with 41 other sites around Colorado for the listing.

“One thing that’s interesting is the city owns the land, so the Historic Preservation Commission is interested in it,” Pelletier said.

The plan for Coal Camp, if recognized as a threatened place, is to clear out some of the brush, cut a trail for people to walk the site, and place interpretive signs describing each artifact and telling stories about the camp and coal mine operations.

“What I would hope we’d be able to do is at least get signage up identifying what it was,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Don Vanderhoof said. “I would also like to see a written history.”

“I think this one is pretty unique from what I’ve seen,” Ashbeck said.

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