The MBT is A-OK, Thanks EST
Stope. While rock hounds might be familiar with the word, for most, this mining term will be a new one to add to their Leadville dictionary. But perhaps more importantly for regular users of the popular Mineral Belt Trail (MBT) the repair works to some stopes in Leadville’s mining district means you can now, once again complete the full 11.6-mile loop.
Leadville’s mining heritage is hard to miss, even if you’re just passing through town the harvests and gleanings of Lake County’s most profitable industry are all around. Its very name speaks to the carbonate mineral extracted from the ground where it all began. Therefore if you spend any time here you’re bound to learn a few things about the industry and how relevant it still is to everyday life. In fact, the recent work completed on Leadville’s popular Mineral Belt Trail is a perfect example of that: the stope has been fixed!
What’s a Stope?
“When a miner would begin his quest for the mother lode, he would begin to dig into the mountain,” explained Leadville historian, former Climax miner, and fifth-generation Leadvillite Howard Tritz. As one of the founding members, he continues to serve on the MBT Committee which recently oversaw the eastside construction on the popular recreation trail. As the hopeful entrepreneur would follow that vein of precious metal sometimes it would meander back up through the mountain, creating dangerous unsuspecting mine shafts below a seemingly solid earthly passage above. That man-made geographical feature is called a stope.
While the eastside mining district is littered with stopes, there was one that recently got a lot of attention, because, quite frankly, it needed some! For regular Mineral Belt Trail users the sinking asphalt along the trail between the County Road 2 and East 5th Street/County Road 1 was a telltale sign that the ground below was unstable. And every season it sunk a little lower until finally unable to remain open unless repairs were made the Committee bit the bullet and made the half-million-dollar repair which began with the design work in February 2020 and wrapped up ahead of schedule (despite the COVID pandemic) on July 1. The job was done by EST, Inc., an engineering firm from Denver with Montano Concrete rounding out the design-build team. Project Engineer Amy Backel picks up the story from here:
“EST, Inc. designed two custom steel bridges for the Mineral Belt Trail system,” Backel explained adding that the team understood the importance of the trail system for recreational users year-round and its preservation of the mining history of Leadville. “EST designed a weathering steel beam bridge system with bridge planks supporting an asphalt surface that will be low maintenance, support the Caterpillar 950 design vehicle, and provide a 75-year design life.”
The light structural components allowed smaller equipment to be used for installation. Backel explains that this strategy limited the potential for trail damage while they were making the fix. Can you imagine what getting outriggers for cranes on those steep slopes littered with stopes might have been like? So it’s a job #welldone for the great vision and critical thinking this design and implementation team put forth. Leadville appreciates your hard work and professionalism as well as getting it done ahead of schedule. Please put this crew on the #shortlist
Who’s Paying for the Stope Repairs?
While the MBT is 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.
The recent stope repair Tritz estimated will come in at half-a-million dollars. So with the MBT on its own when it comes to fundraising, people ask how they can help. So if you 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.
What’s Next for the Mineral Belt Trail
Now that the stope repairs have been completed, what’s next for the Mineral Belt Trail? The committee is going to be digging even a bit deeper into Leadville’s historic mining district by adding several loops into the trail system. The following are maps and descriptions of the new loops which will be the MBT’s next project. It’s important to note that these trails are on private property and until fully integrated into the MBT system, users are asked to be respectful and remain on the established 11.6-mile loop for now. While some initial work will get underway this fall 2020, the project is intended to shift into high gear next summer 2021, all COVID things considered, of course. Here’s what LT knows so far.
Description of New MBT Loops
The Mineral Belt Trail (MBT) committee proposes to construct three loops that connect to the MBT. A loop will be located on Fryer, Fairview and Carbonate Hills immediately east of Leadville. The Fairview Hill loop is an extension of the Fryer Hill loop. All loops are located less than 1 mile east of the Leadville city limits. They can be accessed directly from 7th and 5th streets, County roads 3 and 1. The loops will add a total of 4.0 miles or 6.3 km to the MBT, increasing its length by 34 percent, making it 15.7 miles or 25.2 km long. The additional length will reduce the increased use density of the trail when the 10-mile Canyon trail from Summit County is connected to the MBT, another future goal. All the loops provide spectacular views of; Leadville, the upper Arkansas Valley, and the Mosquito, Sawatch, and Collegiate ranges. A total of ten 14k peaks including Mt. Elbert Colorado’s highest peak will be visible from the trails.
History of New MBT Loops
The loops pass many locations of historic significance that are part of the 140-year story of discovery, development, and remediation of mining activities in the Leadville area. Historic sites include the Matchless Mine National Historic Site. A partial list of additional sites includes; H.A.W. Tabor’s Little Pittsburgh mine discovery site, Colorado Governor Routt’s Morning Star mine, the Chrysolite mine, said to have been salted by Chicken Bill, the Robert E mine that produced 117,000 ounces of silver (34,000,000 2017 dollars) in less than 24 hours in 1879 and the Wolftone mine, site of an underground banquet for more than 200 guests in 1911. The Carbonate loop passes near the site of GrahmPark. At one time a town of 200 inhabitants with a school district. The town supported the mines of Carbonate and Iron Hills. The records of the school district are preserved in the State archives.
Ecology of New MBT Loops
The loops pass examples of 20th and 21st-century remediation of 19th and early 20th-century mine waste and acid runoff from the Wolftone, Green Back, Mikado, Pyrenees mines, Hamm’s mill, and other sites. This work protects public health and restores ecosystems in the Leadville area. It contributed to the restoration of the upper Arkansas River ecosystems and the river’s ranking as a blue-ribbon trout stream. Because of logging, mining, and smelter emissions the loop areas were nearly devoid of vegetation from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. Photos taken during that time will be displayed at their view location along the trail to quantify the environmental recovery that has taken place. The taxonomy in the late 19thcentury views can be compared with the current taxonomy of vegetation along the trail. The intention is to be a basis for discussion of environmental recovery and remediation.