Summit County open space picks up former gold mining area near Copper |

Summit County open space picks up former gold mining area near Copper

Bob BerwynSummit County correspondentAspen, CO Colorado
Contributed photoSummit County is acquiring a mining parcel in Mayflower Gulch, between Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass.

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. – The purchase of a 129-acre mining parcel in Mayflower Gulch, between Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass, east of Highway 91, is aimed at protecting the area from future mining and development.County open space officials sealed the deal Nov. 24 for $900,000 after years of negotiations with the owner in Florida.”It’s been a priority for us. We started working on this in 2002,” said Brian Lorch, director of the open space program. Most of the land in the spectacular high alpine basin is now owned by the county or is part of the national forest. Some adjacent land is still owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., owners of the nearby Climax molybdenum mine.”We’ve talked to Climax, but they’ve made it clear they’re not in the land disposition (selling) mode,” Lorch said. The company may use its Mayflower Gulch holdings as part of a future big-picture land swap involving parcels in other states, Lorch said.The previous owner of the Mayflower property, Florentine Vantine, of Florida, initially wanted $4 million for the property.That may sound like a terrifically high price, but gold reserves on the parcel are valued at $15 to $50 million, according to Dan Hinds, an environmental expert who worked with Vantine during the past 10 years to meet state mining and reclamation regulations. It would have cost about $5 to $10 million to bring the mining operation back up to speed, and the cost of protecting natural resources in the area and of working at that elevation would also be high, he said.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property. I’m taking a loss of about $5 million, but I really wanted to do something for the community,” Vantine said. After buying the mine in the 1970s, she and her partners operated it for a while. But she said that, as an absentee owner, she had problems with management. At one point, they found about 100 ounces of gold missing.Vantine said that, as soon as she received her check from the county, she started turning the money around to some of her favorite charities.”There’s still loads of gold up there. The assays have been tremendous,” she said. “It’s loaded.”Some studies showed the area could yield up to 55 ounces of gold per ton of ore. Assayed silver values were even higher, and Vantine said there is also platinum to be found.Gold is currently selling for over $1,100 per ounce, its highest ever.But as of Nov. 18, the state mining permit has been retired, as a condition of the sale, according to Hinds. Any future start-up would be subject to much stricter state requirements than those for the original permit.Hinds and his company, Arvada-based Frontier Environmental Services, have cleaned up the site, demolishing damaged buildings and transporting the debris to landfills, as well as consolidating scattered mine waste and even capping some of the areas with native soils.Of course, it’s not the county’s intention to re-open the mine. Instead, the property will be enjoyed for its natural resource qualities, including extensive wetlands downstream and stunning alpine tundra set among a deep glacial cirque.Lorch said the ultimate sale price was not affected much by current economic conditions. Rather, the deal is the result of patient relationship-building, he said.In general, prices for open space purchased haven’t dropped in the past year, even though real estate prices in Summit County have dipped in developed areas. But the open space department has had a little more breathing room because there is less competition for parcels.”It doesn’t feel like there are 20 people lined up to buy everything,” he said.

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