Two Decades of Sheer Trail Enjoyment
This week, Leadville’s Mineral Belt Trail’s (MBT) marks 20 years on Wednesday, July 29, 2020! So if you are looking for something good to celebrate, look no further than Leadville’s 11.6-mile non-motorized recreation loop which provides countless hours of enjoyment all year long for residents and visitors alike. Add to that some interesting stories about some of the things users might encounter along the trail and there’s little doubt that the MBT encompasses everything that is good about Leadville.
In honor of the milestone event, this week the LT news spotlight shines on something everyone could agree on 20 years ago – and in Leadville Today! The Mineral Belt Trail! Some years ago during the MBT’s Annual Phyllis Hakala Fall Colors Tour one of the founding members and Leadville native-son Howard Tritz recalled how the trail got started. This is the story of Leadville’s Mineral Belt Trail. Happy 20th Anniversary, MBT! May you have many, many more years to come!
The MBT: In The Beginning
Howard Tritz’s opens his story in 1991. By now, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had firmly entrenched itself into the Leadville landscape and had designated Lake County as a Superfund site. For long-timers who can remember some of those hostile public meetings that needed a Sheriff’s deputy present, or can recall the “no vacancy” hospitality this small mountain community showed to federal agents who could not find a hotel room nor anyone to serve them a meal at a local restaurant, it was a rough chapter in Leadville’s recent history.
But, as Tritz’s continues with the story, there was a group that realized they might be able to leverage the EPA’s presence in town. Maybe they could get something out of them while they were here. And so, as is the standard operating procedure, a group was formed, calling themselves the Leadville and Lake County Liaison Committee (LLCLC).
While some of the humorous details of Tritz’s tale will have to save for another day, the long and short of the story is that the committee took the top two ideas solicited from the community about what was important to them and created the Mineral Belt Trail.
“Preserving the mining district garnered the most votes by far,” recalled Tritz. “And building a bicycle trail came in at a close second.” It seemed nearly everyone came to an agreement to develop something that would showcase and preserve the unique mining heritage of the district while providing recreational benefits to the community and its visitors. The mere fact that something actually materialized from a community survey is an accomplishment in itself. The fact that the construction of the trail began so quickly in the spring of 1995, and actually opened five years later at the end of July 2000 is a triumph.
The plan, in the beginning, was to compile a list of abandoned rail lines that could possibly be utilized for pedestrian and biking trails. A major portion of the Mineral Belt Trail is on the Colorado and Southern Mineral Belt Line. This rail line was built in 1898 and abandoned in 1937. It winds through the famous Leadville Mining District passing through well known old mines such as the Little Pittsburg, Robert E. Lee, Robert Emmet, Wolftone, and Tabor’s Matchless Mine. In 1987, the ownership of this line was transferred from Burlington Northern to Ken and Stephanie Olson, founders of the popular tourist train in Leadville. The Olson’s generously donated this rail line for the development of a bicycle/pedestrian trail.
But the spirit of cooperation didn’t end there. Groups that had sat across from each other in courtrooms formed an alliance that helped create one of the most interesting trails in Colorado! City and county authorities, private landowners, local civic and historic organizations, and state and federal agencies; all these participants and many more put aside their differences in order to make this project happen. With very few exceptions, where parcels of land were exchanged, easements to allow construction of the trail were all donated to Lake County.
Today, Mineral Belt Trail is one of the highest paved trails in Colorado. This self-guided tour takes users through some of the richest silver and gold strikes in Leadville’s Historic Mining District. The trail’s inclines and declines mimic the full circle of mining, from the early discoveries, through the boom and bust periods, and up to the current Superfund cleanup. Presently, efforts are underway to secure its National Recreational Trail status, as well as a Congressional designation as a National Historic Trail.
There are several access points to the Mineral Belt Trail. The first is from Ice Palace Park, located behind the National Mining Museum. If you’re coming into town from the north off Highway 91, take a right onto E. 11th Street, at the corner of the liquor store and marijuana dispensary facility. Take that short block and the parking area will be directly in front of you. MBT users can also access the trail from the Lake County Community Park, located at W. 6th and McWethy Streets. Head west at the light in downtown Leadville, traveling for several blocks until you see the park at the “T” intersection where there is plenty of FREE parking. And finally, the most used access point can be found at the base of Dutch Henri Hill at the corner of Highway 24 south and McWethy Drive, look for the Cloud City Ski Club sign.
While the MBT is still owned by Lake County, all of its management and operating decisions are made by the Mineral Belt Trail Committee which is a non-profit that acts in an advisory capacity to the Board of County Commissioners. In fact, other than routine maintenance which shows up under the Public Works’ budget, the county has no other financial or staff obligation to one of the most used recreational facilities in Leadville Today. Which leaves the MBT on its own when it comes to fundraising. So if you are a regular user and would like to contribute to the MBT, please do so via the Pay Pal link provided with this story or mail your donation to The Mineral Belt Trail, PO Box 666, Leadville, Co 80461.
The MBT: Shelter From The Storm
In honor of the MBT’s 20th birthday, Leadville Today is sharing some information about the unique features that make Leadville’s Mineral Belt Trail like none other. In today’s post, LT tells the tale of those sturdy little shacks along the way. It’s a story you won’t read anywhere else except on Leadville Today. And stay tuned there’s more to come this week, including a report about the recent repair work completed by engineers in the historic mining district area.
Chad’s Shelter: Stacking Stulls
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
If you’ve ever been out enjoying Leadville’s Mineral Belt Trail (MBT) and got caught in some unexpected weather – like an afternoon rainstorm – you were probably grateful that there was a shelter nearby. And like everything else in this old mining town, these structures have a history, a story about how they were made, and how they each got their name.
It was back in October 2014, when the MBT installed the fourth, and final (to date), shelter in the southwest quadrant of the trail, between mile marker 10 and 11. So as the work crews got ready to haul Chad’s Shelter up the hill, I got the call to come and cover the historic event. It was also a good chance to meet up with MBT historian and general good guy from Leadville’s Howard Tritz.
This last structure – Chad’s Shelter – was named in honor of Chad Smith, son of Dick and Charlene Smith. He would have carried on the fifth generation of the Smith Lumber business, which started in Leadville in 1900. Sadly, Chad Smith passed away in 2013; Smith Lumber closed its doors a little more than a year later, in July 2014. But there’s a closer connection between the multi-generation Ma and Pa lumber business and the MBT shelters, so it’s encouraging to know that Chad’s Shelter will live on as a testament to his family’s legacy in Leadville Today.
Did you know that all four of the MBT buildings’ materials and labor were donated by Smith Lumber? And it’s the structures’ interesting design that gives a clue to their origin; it’s the ultimate in recycling, in fact.
Each shelter is made from various sized stulls, stacked on top of each other, and pulled together at the corner with a lap joint.
So what are stulls? Stulls were used in sacking lumber for transportation. Over the years as this family-owned business provided the materials for many of the structures in town, Smith Lumber would set aside the stulls after unloading lumber deliveries. They started doing this for the express purpose of being re-purposed into an MBT shelter.
The first three shelters were named after mining shafts in the area of where they are situated. They include the Swamp Angel Shelter, located at the Leadville overlook. The second is called Lime Lode Shelter, located as you head up California Gulch on the north side.
The third shelter is the one located in Evans Gulch, named the Cummins and Finn Shelter, after the smelter in that area of the historic mining district.
So where is Chad’s Shelter? Specifically, it’s between mile markers 10 and 11, in the southwest quadrant of the 11.6-mile non-motorized loop around Leadville. More informally it’s in the area where the boy scouts picnic area and scopes are located. Or, if you’re familiar with the plaques along the way, Chad’s shelter sits right in front of the wildlife habitat plaque that has the picture of the bear on it.
So get out on the Mineral Belt Trail to celebrate its birthday, July 29. Be sure to give a nod to Chad’s when you pass by or stop in when you need a little shelter from the storm!
Publisher’s Note: No portion of this story or the content therein can be posted or published without express written permission from the Publisher. All content original. © Leadville Today