Aspen area miners’ shacks will be sacrificed for safety
Six cabins scattered on national forest surrounding Aspen are targeted for demolition this summer in a mine lands safety-closure project.
At least a portion of five of the structures dates back to the late 1800s or early 1900s, but none qualify for the National Register of Historic Places or the Colorado State Register of Historic Places.
One of the cabins has been used for 30 years as a warming hut for backcountry skiers on Burnt Mountain.
Three of the cabins provide an appearance of long-gone mining days around the ghost town of Ruby while another is hidden in the woods of Conundrum Valley.
“They might not have historical significance but they might have historical value,” said Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer.
Therefore, her formal decision on the project calls for the reclamation crews “to leave a trace of historic building components, if possible, for gradual deterioration so visitors can enjoy and ponder the local history while visiting their public lands. Partial walls, no taller than 3 feet, will be left on some of the structures, but all roofs, windows and doors will be removed.”
The Forest Service is facing a dilemma. Federal law requires the agency to keep standing cabins in safe and good condition. The White River National Forest doesn’t have the money to do that, so the agency is tapping a state of Colorado fund maintained to make mine lands safer by closing off mines and demolishing old structures. The Forest Service has an obligation under the National Historic Preservation Act to study if any of the structures targeted for demolition are eligible for listing rather than destruction.
A report prepared by Mountain States Historical of Lafayette determined several of the cabins were remodeled or sometimes completely overhauled in the 1960s through 1990s for recreational use and squatting. That compromises their historic integrity.
One targeted structure, a dilapidated old building near Warren Lakes on Smuggler Mountain, had no historical value at all, Schroyer said. It wasn’t evaluated in the study.
“That one has been abandoned for some time,” she said.
Two of the cabins are located at the end of the road at the ghost town of Ruby, east of Aspen. The Osborn cabin was likely built between 1903 and 1910 on a mining claim at 11,500 feet in elevation.
“The cabin was almost certainly a prospector’s or miner’s residence, and among Ruby’s few businesses,” the historical report said.
“The cabin was heavily remodeled several decades ago with new siding, recreational decks, a roof, door, downs, drainage improvements and other elements,” the report added. “The site’s integrity is severely compromised. The cabin exhibits only a fraction of its original design, materials and workmanship. Without these aspects, the site has no clear association with Ruby’s history. But the site’s alpine setting is outstanding and impacts feeling of prospecting circa 1900.”
Remnants of the original cabin will be left behind after the modern elements are torn down and trucked out.
Another cabin and outhouse at the end of the road at Ruby will be completely removed. Some recreational cabins and storage structures were “erected haphazardly” in the 1960s into the 1980s among the ruins of cabins that date back to the 1880s and early 1900s on the Columbine lode, the report said. The newer structures will be torn down and removed, along with the remains of a 1940 Hudson automobile. An unauthorized bridge across Lincoln Creek also will be torn out.
The warming hut known as the Draper cabin also is meeting its demise within Snowmass Ski Area. It is tucked among steep slopes on Burnt Mountain and is tough to stumble upon. Its use since the mid-1990s has been mostly through word of mouth.
Users of the structure criticized the Forest Service’s planned demolition back in 2014 as a solution looking for a problem. The users, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of getting stuck with a bill for cleanup, said the structure isn’t unsafe and is causing no harm in the woods, they said.
The original cabin was likely built in the 1910s and is surrounded by prospect pits. It was abandoned around 1920 and collapsed.
“During the 1990s, someone used the ruins as a core for a recreational shelter, adding to the walls, changing the footprint and installing a new mudroom,” the report said. “The site’s integrity is compromised. The cabin possesses only a fraction of its original materials and workmanship and no aspects of design.”
Two of the cabins haven’t been bastardized as much as the others, but they are still getting demolished.
The Vermont cabin in Conundrum Valley was likely built by prospectors between 1897 and 1920 and used as a base camp for exploring the area, Mountain States Historical said. Recreationists started using it and made alterations in the 1970s and ’80s.
It has its original door and some windows and in the interior it appears to have original shelving, a cabinet and a cookstove.
But recreation users added Plexiglas, bar stools and a 1977 movie star catalog.
The cabin is in an advanced stage of deterioration, the report said. It’s in designated wilderness, so crews will demolish it by hand.
Schroyer ruled they will leave 3 feet of the walls intact on the Vermont cabin. All disassembled wood components will be left scattered on the ground.
The sixth cabin assessed for the project and the most historically intact also will be dismantled with 3 feet of walls remaining. The Emily lode cabin is located at the entrance road to the Anderson and Petroleum lakes entrance route along Lincoln Creek, north of Ruby.
Mountain States Historical estimated the cabin was built by prospectors between 1897 and 1915.
“The cabin itself is fairly well preserved, suffering only a few substantial alterations in recent decades,” the report said. “Recreationists replaced windows, added a large deck in front, bolted on a radio antenna, and installed fittings for a freshwater hose and propane service. The roof may have been re-clad as well. But the rest of the building appears to be original and structurally sound.”
Again, while the report found there was no historical significance, it also noted a special quality of the Emily lode cabin.
“A deep forest setting supports a feeling of remote residence by prospectors,” the report said.
Schroyer said Monday she is torn by a desire to preserve mining era history but abiding by the law that all structures on national forest must be safe. Leaving 3-foot high walls will preserve a historical record of three of the structures.
“I felt like that was my compromise,” Schroyer said.
She noted that none of the structures targeted for demolition were ever authorized. The mining claims weren’t patented — meaning the work wasn’t performed to convert them into private property.
The opportunity to make them safe came through a state program, Schroyer said. It pays for the closure of mining workings and also the demolition of associated structures. The cost of the program wasn’t available Monday.
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