Ouray Mayor Bob Risch, speaking on behalf of the Red Mountain Project at the March 31 meeting of the Ouray Board of County Commissioners, invited the commissioners to consider taking title to the land so that preservation of these prominent mining sites and the buildings on them may continue.
The commissioners agreed to consider the offer and asked County Attorney Mary Deganhart to explore any legal issues that the county may encounter by accepting ownership. They also asked County Administrator Connie Hunt to schedule a workshop soon with the Red Mountain Task Force and the Ouray County Historical Society. Risch said he is already planning to have a meeting in early May with the historical society, which usually participates in the process of transferring historic mining sites to public ownership.
The donation would add to the120 acres that the county previously acquired from RMP for its mining claim inventory, including the Ironton Townsite, the Larson Brothers claims and the Beaver/Belfast mines, as well as to nearly 200 acres of mining claims already in county ownership.
The American Girl Mine, according to Risch, is a favorite subject for area artists and photographers and is “one of the most prominent historic mining structures along the length of the San Juan Skyway,” he said. The mine was supposed to be deeded to the U.S. Forest Service along with two other claims collectively named White Cloud, but the overlapping juxtaposition of those claims triggered some confusion, and the American Girl was missed during the transfer. The result, said Risch, is that the Trust for Public Land still holds title and is making it available to the county.
Acquisition of the Jonathan Mine, located on Gold Hill overlooking Ouray, is crucial for its future preservation, according to the task force. This site contains a tram terminal, blacksmith shop and boardinghouse. Access to the site is by historic roads and trails, which cross privately owned claims, making access to the mine problematic. Risch said that the county should be able to negotiate road access with neighboring landowners at that location in the future. “Our hope and expectation is that county acceptance of the Jonathan would be a positive step toward the protection of the public interests in this remarkable property,” Risch said.
Risch said that most of the county’s approximately 320 acres of mining holdings might eventually be worthy of protection as a National Historic area. “Under those circumstances the county’s inventory of historic properties might best be sold, exchanged or otherwise conveyed to the federal government. In the meantime, acceptance of the above-listed properties is one more invaluable step the BOCC can take in the continuing role as stewards of irreplaceable resources,” said Risch in a memo to the county commissioners.
The Red Mountain Project was founded in 1998 with a goal to preserve 10,500 acres of historic landscapes and structures within and around the historic Red Mountain Mining District. The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, has acquired and conveyed approximately 7,800 of those acres to the Forest Service. TPL is a key member of the Red Mountain Project Task Force, along with county commissioners from Ouray and San Juan counties, representatives of Fort Lewis College and the U.S. Forest Service.