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March 28, 2020

County Assisting Soil Mitigation at Ute-Ulay Mine


Following a busy summer during which 500-plus visitors stopped to pick up brochures and inspect the upper portion of the old mine site, the historic Ute-Ulay Mine complex on Henson Creek once again roared back to life this week as Hinsdale County Road & Bridge personnel and equipment descended on the site.
Using a combination of dump trucks, as well as front end loaders which were used to access tight spacing between buildings, Road & Bridge workers JoAllen Blowers, Norman Ragle, Breck Thompson, and Johnny Bebout made repeated trips hauling rock and gravel to add a cap of clean rock and gravel over three areas adjacent to the mine mill which have shown high levels of mine waste contamination.
Although still closed to the public, Hinsdale County envisions opening portions of the lower mine complex with walking trails near the areas now being capped with clean rock.
Rough rock being used in the 6”-deep cap is transported via repeated dump truck loads. As a final covering, the cap will then be overlaid with gravel.
It has been four years since the initial portion of the Ute-Ulay complex, that portion of the mine immediately above County Road 20, was donated to
Hinsdale County by Seattle-based LKA Gold. LKA subsequently donated the mill and related buildings below the road, the total now aggregating 12-acres which is owned by Hinsdale County and envisioned as a premier heritage tourism attraction.
During the short span of years since the first donation in 2012, a gargantuan amount of work has been accomplished by the county utilizing partnerships with a wide variety of local, state and national entities.
Among these key working and funding relationships were Colorado Dept. Public Health & Environment, Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining & Safety, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which in 2009 and 2013 completed mitigation work consolidating and capping wide swaths of environmentally-compromised mine tailings piles and settling ponds surrounding the complex of deteriorating mine structures.
An assessment was made of the most seriously deteriorated buildings in the complex and the county has worked to reroof and stabilize structures which were in imminent danger of collapse. Assisting with stabilization of key buildings at the site were crews from HistoriCorps which sent in volunteers in 2015 and 2016.
In 2015, HistoriCorps was brought to Lake City for a several-day emergency stabilization project adding structure reinforcement and a temporary roof to a wood frame building which has since been identified as an office building, complete with remnants of steam-heated radiators and a wall-length men’s urinal.
HistoriCorps returned to Lake City in 2016 for a week-long effort installing a new roof on a shed addition to the mill building and straightening and reinforcing a badly sagging barn storage building which was near-collapse.
Among the structures preserved through emergency stabilization was the rare timber headframe which was saved from collapse in 2012 utilizing funds provided by Colorado Division Reclamation, Mining & Safety.
Stabilization and public access improvements continued non-stop during the past summer and fall, including this week’s work by Hinsdale Road & Bridge personnel capping contaminated soils.
One of the year’s most important landmark events was successful nomination of the 12-acre complex as a nationally-recognized historic site. The Ute-Ulay
Mine and Mill District was formally accepted onto the National Register of Historic Places last month as the result of a several-hundred page nomination with photo documentation which was completed by Jon Horn of Alpine Archaeological Consultants, Montrose.
Funding to research and write the historic district nomination was the result of a $17,000 donation from the Bureau of Land Management.
The mine complex was named as an historically-significant Hinsdale County site by Hinsdale County Commissioners in 2011. This fall’s successful listing of the site on both the National and Colorado registers of historic places brings with it national recognition for what Horn in his application termed an “important historical mining landscape with mining and milling buildings, sites and features.”
According to county grant writer Kristie Borchers, listing of the Ute-Ulay on the National Register of Historic Places opens new funding opportunities, including eligibility for State Historic Fund grants. A non-competitive State Historic Fund application will be submitted by the county prior to year’s end for structural assessment of the Ute-Ulay mill building.
The county’s ultimate goal, according to Borchers, is not to meticulously restore the cavernous, multi-level mill building but instead to leave it in its time-capsule status while allowing limited public access. As envisioned by the county, the mill’s multi-level stairway might be reinforced for safety and areas barricaded off with chickenwire screens.
Earlier in the process, the interior of the mill received a top to bottom environmental mitigation.
A gravel-surface public walking trail with native rock and old timber bumpers is now in use on the upper level of the complex above County Road 20, with a similar meandering public trail system also planned in the future in the lower areas adjacent to the mill building.
The upper trail is approximately one-third of a mile in length. The trail at the upper end of the complex starts off at Henson Creek dam overlook area where a collapsed barn building was removed. The starting area includes ample parking, a picnic bench and several interpretive signs. An earlier sign giving the history of the Town of Henson and its association with mine workers from Italy has now been joined by a metal frame kiosk displaying a map of the upper trail system.
The kiosk also serves to dispense a free-of-charge tri-fold brochure with map of the trail system, concise history of the complex, and safety and historic site etiquette suggestions. Over the past summer it is estimated an average of 500 of the brochures were distrubuted on a monthly basis.
Attached to the kiosk is a visitor registry and locked donation box.
Also new is an interpretive panel providing an overview of mine history which was written by Marty Priest. The new interpretive sign was funded by a grant awarded to Lake City DIRT through Colorado Dept. of Local Affairs, while costs relating to the preparation and printing of the brochure and kiosk were funded by Hinsdale County and Bureau of Land Management.
The new interpretive panel highlights an impressive array of governmental and organizational partners which have assisted Hinsdale County on the Ute-Ulay project: Colorado Main Street, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture – Rural Development, Lake City DIRT, LKA Gold, HistoriCorps, Colorado Dept. Public Health & Environment, Colorado Dept. of Local Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, Town of Lake City, Hinsdale County Historical Society, Colorado Preservation, Inc., and Bureau of Land Management.
The hillside public trail was completed last summer through the efforts of local resident Ron Taylor who was hired by the county. The graveled trail, with some steep sections, is highlighted with a total of ten small sign posts denoting historic buildings and features which are keyed to the walking trail brochure.
Numbered posts, in numerical order, highlight the dam and flume, “Frank’s House,” the long-barn-like structure stabilized by HistoricCorps, the headframe and hoist, Town of Henson, redwood water tank, tram, four-hole outhouse, two log cabin residences and, at the trail’s conclusion rejoining County Road 30, the mine boarding house.
Ongoing stabilization of historic buildings at the site includes new corrugated metal roofing on a shed addition to the log residence above the road, as well as the addition of a new wood beam which Hinsdale Building Inspector Jack Nichols installed to support the roof in the building which houses the Buckeye engine below the mill.
The Quick Family Foundation, in Boulder, Colorado, has provided $7,500, to be matched by the county, for use in stabilizing the conical-shaped redwood water tank — an iconic feature of the complex which is located on the hillside above the boarding house.
Environmental Protection Agency funding totaling $71,500 which was awarded to the county this year through Colorado Dept. Public Health & Environment was used to build 370’ of cross-buck pole fencing which defines planned public accesss areas in the vicinity of the mill. The fencing was built by Ben Hake during early morning hours and late evenings earlier this fall.
Colorado Public Health & Environment funding also paid Hake, who has aided by Ethan Wuest and Forest Swift, for removal of debris in and around the upper winch house and two areas below the road, including an interconnected series of rooms in cement and frame buildings near the mine portal.
Hake’s detailed inventory of what was removed includes 15 bags of rat droppings, misc. debris filling one large rolloff, 11 loads of recyclable scrap metal, six trailer loads of misc. debris, eight appliances and four tires.
Also funded in part through public health & environment grant was this week’s capping work of mine waste-contaminated soils at three specific locations adjacent to the mill building. According to Road & Bridge Supervisor Monte Hannah, road personnel Blowers, Ragle, Bebout and Thompson hauled and levelled the clean rock cap utilizing three county dump trucks, two front end loaders, an excavator, and D6 cat.
Work on the capping, including installation of the top layer of gravel, is expected to be finished by late next week.
Oversight on the ongoing Ute-Ulay project has been provided by a team of partner representatives which meets on a periodic basis. The team’s work, including placement of the mine complex on the National Register of Historic Places, has garnered the prestigious Stephen H. Hart Award for Historic Preservation presented by the state historical society, History Colorado.
The award will be presented during the annual Saving Places conference which will be held in Denver in late January, 2018.
Members of the county’s Ute-Ulay Team are Jon Horn – Alpine Archaeological Consultants, Kristie Borchers – DIRT, Susan Thompson, Stan Whinnery, Monte Hannah, and Jack Nichols on behalf of Hinsdale County, Liz Francisco – Bureau of Land Management, Kye Abraham – LKA Gold, Mark Rudolph – Colorado Dept. Public Health & Environment, Grant Houston – Hinsdale County Historical Society, and Bruce Vierheller and Ben Hake – Town of Lake City.

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