Red Mountain miracle

  • Red Mountain Creek begins atop Red Mountain Pass and flows through Ironton Park into the dramatic Uncompahgre Gorge, picking up minerals from natural and mining-related sources on the way. Iron gives the water its characteristic orange hue

    MORGAN HEIM PHOTO
  In the late 1800s, some 3,000 people lived and worked in the Red Mountain Mining District near the top of Red Mountain Pass between Silverton and Ouray. Just about every acre was clear-cut, built upon or mined. Today, the miners are gone and aspen trees and tundra plants have reclaimed most of the area. The only visible remnants are a handful of ghostly houses and abandoned mine structures, the faint line of a railroad bed, and dozens of mining dumps.

But another potent legacy of the past lingers as well: Thousands of acres of private land – patented mining claims -- that are vulnerable to development. But instead of becoming second-home sites, 9,000 acres, much of the old mining district, have been transferred to public ownership over the past nine years, saving them from the residential construction that has overrun hillsides in other mountain communities across the West.

“Every one of these parcels could have been developed,” said Rick Cable, Rocky Mountain regional forester, at a recent gathering celebrating the completion of the land-acquisition project. “But they will be conserved in perpetuity.”

The Red Mountain Project began in 1998 when a group of volunteers from nearby Ouray and Silverton met to find a way to preserve the historic remnants and scenic landscape near the top of Red Mountain Pass. They brought in local county governments, historical societies, federal agencies, the Trust for Public Land and the Fort Lewis College Office of Community Services to help out. And, with such a broad and diverse base of support, the group was able to acquire $14 million, mostly from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, to purchase the properties. Digging up all that money wasn’t the only challenge: The group also had to sort out the tangled ownership of hundreds of mining claims, some of which had been passed down from generation to generation and were owned by dozens of different parties. Then it had to convince the owners to sell.

Initially, the group hoped to acquire 10,500 acres. Now, the remaining 1,500 acres, still in private hands, are even more valuable than before because they are on the edge of or surrounded by public land. But that didn’t dampen the ebullient mood at the Aug. 18 gathering, held next to the newly public Crystal Lake, where the glassy water held reflections of deep orange mountainsides.

“It’s such a rare place, and so incredibly fragile,” said Mark Wolfe of the Colorado State Historic Fund. “It isn’t going to survive on its own.”



Click to view a complete photogallery of lands preserved by the Red Mountain Project.

More on the Red Mountain Project

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a development professional to coordinate the organization's individual giving program. The position description is available at http://greateryellowstone.org/careers Please email a letter...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. At least 8-10 years of experience...
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER AND BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring for two positions. We seek a Communications Manager to execute inspiring and impactful communications...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • FISHERIES BIOLOGIST
    Under the direct supervision of the Director of Shoshone-Paiute Tribe's Fish, Wildlife & Parks, in coordination with the Tribal Programs Administrator and the Tribal Chairman,...
  • REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NORTHERN ROCKIES, PRAIRIES & PACIFIC REGION
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • STEWARDSHIP MANAGER
    STEWARDSHIP MANAGER Job Vacancy and Description Posted June 2, 2021: Open until filled The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a non-profit, regional land trust...
  • KSJD - MORNING EDITION HOST/REPORTER
    KSJD is seeking a host/reporter. Please see for www.ksjd.org for more information. EEO compliant.
  • ON THE EDGE OF CEDAR MESA/BEARS EARS
    Quiet, comfy house for rent in Bluff, Utah. Walk to San Juan River. Bike or hike to many nearby ruins and rock art sites. Beautiful...
  • CARPENTER AND LABORER WANTED.
    Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rain forest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg meadows,...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Title: Project Manager Reports To: Program Director Salary Range: Negotiable; starting at $60,000 Location: Bend, OR The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Project Manager to...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Program Director to join our dynamic team in restoring streamflow and improving water quality in the Deschutes Basin. WHO...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - TWISPWORKS
    Established healthy nonprofit in the Methow Valley of Washington state, TwispWorks is hiring the next Executive Director. Terrific opportunity to strive for our mission to...
  • BOARD DIRECTOR
    Help us achieve our mission of promoting excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship, science and education to ensure the life-sustaining benefits of wilderness....
  • TEMPORARY FULL-TIME RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking to immediately fill a Temporary Full-Time employment position as Ranch Operations Assistant for Facilities, Equipment, Land, and...
  • RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking an individual to fill the Regular Full-Time position of Resident Operations Assistant for Technology, Hospitality, Gardening, and...
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Conservation Project Manager Position Description Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for...
  • NOVA SCOTIA OCEAN FRONT
    Camp or Build on 2+ acres in Guysborough. FSBO. $36,000 US firm. Laurie's phone: 585-226-2993 EST.
  • TECHNICAL ADVISOR TO THE GOOD NEIGHBOR AGREEMENT
    Northern Plains Resource Council seeks an independent contractor to implement the Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) between local communities and the Sibanye-Stillwater Mining Company in Montana....