In 1983, an anonymous caller warned Doc Smith that "his river would turn red." Sure enough, the next day, the rancher and veterinarian watched toxic mining metals surge through the Arkansas River as it crossed his property.
wasn’t the first time: His grandfather had fought the effects
of mining on his ranchlands and livestock since 1906, and Smith had
experienced these mine "burps" before.
Leadville: The Struggle to Revive an American
Town, Gillian Klucas describes the mining history of the
community that gave rise to the Tabor Opera House and the
Guggenheim and May fortunes, as well as to the mining waste on Doc
Smith’s land. Locals generally agree that Klucas’ book
is "balanced" — high praise for a book describing a
As a result of environmental
legislation passed in the 1970s — and insistent voices such
as Doc Smith’s — the state and federal governments have
tried to reduce risks from lead and other toxins to residents and
to the Arkansas River watershed. But Leadville’s pride in its
mining history has caused it to continue siding with the mining
companies over the Environmental Protection Agency during
discussions over maximum levels of lead in soil. In the meantime,
structured "wedding cake" tailing piles and ponds the color of
merlot have become new local realities.
This 21st century
mining town struggle is similar to older Wild West tales: local
townspeople trying to make a living, powerful dudes imposing their
will, and lawmen caught in between. But in this modern twist to the
story, "the law" is the EPA. Klucas tells the story of Leadville
with compassion, color, energy and a knack for explaining legal and
scientific aspects. Note to the EPA: Doc is still waiting for his
soil to be cleaned up.
Leadville: The Struggle
to Revive an American Town
304 pages, hardcover $26: Island Press, 2004
Tales of Colorado's high-elevation tailings
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