From Silver Mine to Human Habitat?

For the last month, Orion‘s Poetry Editor Hannah Fries has been in Lake City, Colorado, working with the Colorado Art Ranch to envision a new life for an abandoned silver mine. Read the first of Hannah’s weekly dispatches from Colorado, here.

It’s hard to believe our Hardrock Revision team is in the last stretch of our residency here in Lake City. Having just returned from a trip over the pass to Silverton, where we gave a presentation at the Mountain Studies Institute, we are now hard at work honing our materials and ideas for Saturday’s Artposium, where we will present our full vision for the Ute Ule mine site.

Our working mission statement, after all the research and community interviewing, is this: “The Ute Ule mine and town site will be an inhabitable public place. It must be environmentally conscious, educational, and historically sensitive.” To this end, we have sculpted a vision that involves three stages. The first stage considers immediate action that might be taken to secure, stabilize, and remediate the town site (soon to be donated to the county by the mine owner, LKA International). A brownfield assessment has already taken place, and, for this area, the results were largely positive, despite the identification of some areas of high lead concentration. We will suggest looking into phytoremediation options (plants that take up metals can be planted and then harvested and burned, at which point the metals can be separated and sold). For stabilizing waste-rock piles, we will suggest the use of artfully constructed gabion walls, made of on-site materials. Instead of throwing plain blue tarps over buildings in need of care, we will suggest having artists design these tarps to advertise forthcoming projects on the site or show images of miners or other archival photography.

Stage two will involve making the town site habitable. We’d love to see the old boarding house become a hostel again, and the miners’ cabins restored and rented out. Perhaps the large redwood water tank could be made into a camera obscura. A picnic area could feature various interpretive and artistic elements as well as views of the valley, and one building could be restored to become a small educational center.

Stage three involves the mill site, below the town site, which will require a larger cleanup, likely in conjunction with the EPA and BLM. It would be great to see mine tours someday like the one we had with Matt Ingram, but minus the dangers of insecure floors, rat feces, or leftover toxins. Perhaps audio tours of the whole site might be available—take your pick of the poetry tour, the local ghost story tour, or the history tour. There may be opportunities for collaboration with researchers and universities. In winter, the site might be a bigger ice climbing destination than it is already; a remediated tailings pond might become a skating rink.

Perhaps, in the summertime, you could ride up to the site on the back of a burro. Perhaps when you got there, you could take the restored tramway (once used to transport ore carts) up to a zip line that would cross over the dam, the river rushing below.

Right now, just about any of this is possible. We don’t expect to see it all happen just as we present it, but we do hope that we’ll provide the inspiration, fresh perspective, and influx of energy needed for the community to take full ownership of the project and usher the Ute Ule into its next life.

Image courtesy of Bland Hoke.


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