Wilderness Wanderings: Mining clues remain in Zirkel Wilderness | SteamboatToday.com

Wilderness Wanderings: Mining clues remain in Zirkel Wilderness

Bob Korch/For Steamboat Today

How observant are you while hiking your favorite trails? You see wildflowers, far off peaks, reflections in the lake and maybe even wildlife.

The remains of miners' cabins can be found near the Slavonia Mine in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.Bob Korch/courtesy

Asked differently, what might have gone unseen? You again answer wildlife — bears, deer or elk. But if you've hiked in Mount Zirkel Wilderness, have you seen a rusted water pipe running across a trail, cabins, mines or a hydropower plant?

"Wow!" you say, before catching yourself with a "Whoa, isn't that supposed to be illegal in a Wilderness Area?"

Well, not exactly.

Yes, the Wilderness Act of 1964 protects areas of federal land "without permanent improvements or human habitation … where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

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Yet, it also allows for structures or other signs of human activity that may have existed prior to that area attaining wilderness status: "may also contain … features of scientific, educational, scenic or historical value."

Long before being designated wilderness in 1964, the mountains and streams near Mount Zirkel, Gilpin, Gold Creek and Mica lakes were used for mining — primarily mica and silver, but also lead, copper and even uranium.

The most evident mining area lies near the base of Mount Zirkel at the confluence of Gilpin and Gold creeks. The remains of cabins and their contents and the scarred mine and mining equipment, such as rails and a cart, lie in open view as this area is at the edge of tree line.

Called the Slavonia Mine, the claim was established in 1904 by four Slavics: Peter Wranesich, Max Malich, Nick Rayakovich and Peter Smilyavich. They later sold the mine to Dan Wilt, a prominent oil man who developed the mine with G.S. Simmons. Remember the name Simmons, because he inherited the mine and, later, built a summer home in the area.

At one time, the Slavonia mining camp included a two-story, eight-room bunkhouse and a warehouse used to store mining equipment.

A second mining claim, the Ace High and Falls Mine, was established on Gilpin Creek — just outside the wilderness — and includes a 500-foot tunnel. However, the mine entrance collapsed, leaving only outward signs of a mine cart and rails. Nearby were cabins, but very little remains of them today.

More interesting is the old hydropower plant on the opposite side of Gilpin Creek. Situated at the base of Gilpin Falls, the operation included a metal sluice that can be seen alongside the falls. It channeled water into the now-rusty generator that sent water up to the mine where it was used to separate the heavier minerals — silver, mica, etc. — from rock and earthen deposits.

Also less noticeable is the foundation of the Slavonia House, which remains just 100 feet from the Gold Creek Lake Trail. Built in the first part of the 1900s, the two-story structure was the summer home of G.S. Simmons and his wife, who lived the rest of the year in Laramie. The couple hosted many guests, who hiked and rode horseback to tour the now heavily visited lakes and mountains in the area.

In the 1960s, the house was sold, disassembled and moved to a location on Colorado Highway 131, just south of Steamboat Springs, where it still serves as someone's home.

How can one see these historical remains today? Clues are within this column. But also, take the time to study a good map. Slavonia Mine is 7 miles from Slavonia Trailhead, better visited on an overnighter. The other sites are all within an easy day hike.

Bob Korch is a vice president and trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness which assists the US Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public in the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops Wilderness areas. For more information, visit friendsofwilderness.com.

Know before you go

• Respect the remains of the Slavonia and Gilpin mines, as well as the cabins and foundation. Removing or damaging historical remains is not only illegal, but doing so prevents others from viewing and learning about the area’s past.

• It’s now hunting season in the Zirkel Wilderness and other areas in our national forest and public lands. Be sure to wear bright colors or hunting vests while hiking during the upcoming weeks.