Forest Service aims to seal old Aspen mines, demolish illegal structures
The U.S. Forest Service plans to collapse openings to six abandoned mines in the Aspen area this summer because they pose a threat to public safety.
The agency is also studying the potential demolition of 10 cabins and old mining structures that it contends were illegally constructed on abandoned, unpatented mining claims.
“The proposed safety closures would address ‘inactive’ mine features such as open adits (horizontal entrance) and shafts (vertical entrance) that were once used to access underground mine workings that pose a physical hazard to the public,” says the official project description by the White River National Forest supervisor’s office.
“The proposed demolition activities would address ‘unauthorized’ structures on unpatented mining claims which pose a physical hazard to the public,” the project description continued. Unpatented mines remained in the ownership of the U.S. government. Other parties had mineral rights as long as they worked the mines.
The cleanup effort is called the Greater Aspen Abandoned Mine Lands Safety Closure Project.
Variety of structures eyed
The structures targeted in the project range from a backcountry warming hut for skiers on Burnt Mountain to ramshackle cabins in the Ruby ghost town area to a partially collapsed shaft house on the Norah C Lode above Linkins Lake.
The shaft house is accessible off the popular Lost Man Trail Loop and it appears to be an example of Aspen’s mining heritage. Half of the structure has collapsed over a shaft. The other half remains intact.
Olivia Garcia, abandoned mines and lands coordinator for the White River National Forest, said in an email that the history of the structure on the Norah C Lode will be studied this summer, prior to any potential demolition. “The forest archaeologist, Andrea Brogan, has recommended further heritage evaluation work,” Garcia wrote.
When asked by The Aspen Times if demolition of the structure at the Norah C would destroy part of Pitkin County’s mining heritage, Garcia said the Forest Service will “evaluate and actively try to preserve historic landmarks and features per the State Historic Preservation Office and other laws through the consultation process.”
Mine safety work this summer
The mine safety closures will be undertaken this summer in a partnership with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety and the Colorado Department of Corrections.
The project description on the White River’s website says a mine near Linkins Lake, separate from the Norah C Lode, will be closed, as will a mine at Petroleum Lake in the Lincoln Creek drainage. A map detailing the work sites indicates mines at the headwaters of Lincoln Creek will be closed.
Garcia said $42,000 is available through the Washington Office Abandoned Mine Lands Program, and the federal agency has a cost-sharing agreement with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.
Cabins also targeted
The Forest Service is targeting cabins that appear unrelated to mining activities. The structures appear to be used for occasional shelter. They are: near Warren Lakes on Smuggler Mountain, on the Emily Lode along the Petroleum/Anderson Lakes Trail, on the Columbine Lode up Lincoln Creek near the ghost town of Ruby and on the former Osborne Mill site near Ruby.
A partially collapsed structure in Conundrum Creek is on the demolition list, as is the skiers’ hut on the Burnt Mountain portion of Snowmass Ski Area.
A mining structure on the Uranium King Lode on Mount Yeckel is also scheduled for demolition.
No information was available on how the Forest Service would pay for the demolition of the structures. The parties that built the cabins weren’t identified in the agency’s documentation of the project.
Backcountry adventurers can find mining structures in various degrees of decomposition throughout the mountains surrounding Aspen.
The structures at the ghost towns of Independence and Ashcroft were restored and preserved when interested individuals and the Aspen Historical Society teamed with the Forest Service. They are top tourist draws perennially, showing the fascination with Colorado’s mining heritage.
The Aspen Historical Society is aware generally about the mine closure safety initiative but not about any specifics about the work near Linkins Lake, according to President and CEO Kelly Murphy.
“We don’t really have a position, as we haven’t been involved in the Linkins Lake area,” she said in an email.
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