It’s About Time column: Let’s work together on South Canyon plan |

It’s About Time column: Let’s work together on South Canyon plan

Bill Kight

Why do some people value history and all it has to offer, while others are apathetic about it? Perhaps it has to do with how the past was presented to them in school. I recall teachers in my distant past, who made memorizing dates of important events seem to be more important than the events themselves.

If the past can be brought alive in the appropriate way oftentimes people can be attracted to the telling of the story that is hidden in the objects left behind through the march of time.

Or a certain place can evoke memories associated with it that produce interesting stories when told; stories that make even history haters take notice.

Such a place is South Canyon, near Glenwood Springs, where nearly 1 million tons of coal was mined, almost continuously, from 1902 until the operation shut down in 1951.

South Canyon’s large industrial complex has left evidence of its existence mostly in the form of archaeological resources. All that remain are rusted artifacts, building platforms, foundations and mine dumps. The above-ground buildings are gone.

And, of course, there are memories left in the minds of those few remaining area residents who once lived there.

Photographs of mining activity and everyday life in the South Canyon Coal Camp also survived. The Frontier Museum is the home of this history including many of these frozen-in-time images that connect us to the past.

Some citizens have raised legitimate concerns about the recent proposals from local entrepreneur Steve Beckley for upgrading South Canyon’s hot springs into a commercial enterprise that could include RV campsites.

Other citizens opposed to any development in South Canyon have resorted to attacks not only on Steve’s long-term lease proposal but on him personally. That’s no way to gain a seat at the table and be part of the solution when decisions are made.

Whether development plans go through or not, something more than neglect needs to take place at South Canyon before more of the site disappears, is destroyed or decays into dust.

The Glenwood Springs Historical Society has submitted a grant application with the city of Glenwood Springs from its discretionary funds to complete an integrated site management plan. The plan, if funded, would recommend appropriate actions to protect and interpret the significant half-century history of the South Canyon Coal Camp.

Once the site plan is implemented, walking trails and signs would also tell the story of the canyon’s flora and fauna, geology and fire history.

Ideally this plan should have been completed before the South Canyon Trails Plan was approved. But it’s not too late. Hopefully with all the stakeholders at the table we can still avoid disturbance of the historic fabric of the camp.

I trust Mike Pritchard of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association will keep his commitment of “working with the City and the Historic Preservation Commission to ensure South Canyon can be properly highlighted as one of the City’s existing heritage attractions” (Page 3 of the South Canyon Trails Plan).

And knowing Steve Beckley to be a man of his word, I trust his “vision that with a similar dedication to care and preservation, South Canyon can become a valuable asset to the community that provides additional recreation options for residents and visitors.”

It was a rugged, dangerous, difficult life for the hundreds of miners and their families living in South Canyon at the peak of the coal mining era. This piece of our community history deserves appropriate attention.

By working together — citizens, the City Council, mountain bike enthusiasts, the Historic Commission and the Glenwood Springs Historical Society — each of us can have an important part to play. Help our local history come alive as if the miners were telling the South Canyon story themselves.

Who knows, we might even change some of the history haters into history heroes.

Bill Kight is the Executive Director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and writes a monthly column about history.

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