Leadville seeking to mine tourists | VailDaily.com

Leadville seeking to mine tourists

Frank Schiro
Special to the Daily/Kay BeatonLeadville's Black Cloud Mine, which produced primarily lead and zinc ores until its closure in late 1998, has all the makings of a great tourist site, says Mark Levin, owner of Mining and Environmental Services, which specializes in mine reclamations, renovations and repairs.

And other features, at a conceptual level now, could make the Black Cloud the premier mine tour in Colorado.

Even though the Black Cloud is not old by mining standards, its preservation could still provide an educational and entertaining visit for Lake County tourists.

Black Cloud’s 1,600-foot shaft was completed in 1970. The shaft was sunk on the Black Cloud Claim, and the mine’s manager, Don Seppi, says it was the first active mine on that claim. There are a couple of historic mines nearby – the Helena and the Julie Fisk – now included in the claim’s boundaries.

Black Cloud produced primarily lead and zinc ores until its closure in late 1998. Now, the mine’s riches may be in the hands of a potential new owner, Mark Levin, who currently owns Mining and Environmental Services, an Idaho Springs company that specializes in mine reclamation, renovation and repair services. Levin brings a strong mining background to mining efforts, holding masters degrees in both mining and ecological engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.

“We’d like to do this, and it’s going to take a strong budget,” Levin says as he begins describing his concept of Black Cloud as a tour mine. “If you combined the features of the Molly Kathleen in Cripple Creek and the Hard Tack mine near Lake City, you’d have a great model for a tourist mine.”

In describing his concept of what visitors might experience of the deal with Black Cloud goes through, Levin says visitors would be lowered down by hoist about 500 feet to the working level of the mine. They would then board a small train that would carry them to various displays. At the right moment, the tour guide would throw a paddle switch to light up various mining scenes.

The first scene, Levin says, might depict the early hard-rock mining techniques. Hand-drilling and black powder-setting would be shown using full-scale mannequins in an authentic setting. The next diorama, circa 1890s, would display steam-driven “widow-makers” kicking out clouds of dust. Tour guides would describe the dangers of mining in that era – silicosis, cave-ins and flooding. The train would move on to the mining methods of the 1920s to 1940s, when jackleg drills and powered mucking equipment removed and transported the ore.

Finally, Levin says, the tour might end with a look at how mining took place in the period the Black Cloud was operating. In this last diorama, diesel-powered equipment would be displayed, showing how large amounts of ore being moved in much shorter amounts of time.

Additionally, there might be other attractions typically associated with tour mines, Levin says. He anticipates there would be a tour of the mill on the site. He foresees a possible gift shop, a barbeque or other food facility, and potentially other historical displays in buildings near the mine site.

However, Levin says he also understands there are hurdles to overcome to take the Black Cloud Tour from concept to reality.

First of all, the pending sale with ASARCO and its mother company, Grupo Mexico, has to be approved and go through.

Another problems is location.

“The biggest disadvantage to this site is that it is a long way from interstates or other major roads transporting tourists. There would have to be a lot of community support to get people up there,” Levin says.

Another major concern, Levin says, is that under its present design the hoist costs around $50,000 a month to run. Modifications would have to be made to reduce these expenses.

Levin says he believes modifications could be made that would drop the hoist’s operating cost. The weight-handling requirements for taking people up and down, for example, are far less than what was needed to move tons of ore. If enough weight was dropped, perhaps a generator could provide sufficient power for the intermitant use. Discussions with Xcel Energy also might also result in some potential discounting.

Maintenance, operation and safety costs would also have to be covered.

Levin says he clearly understands the need for funding and the potential costs. One option he is considering is setting the mine tour up as a nonprofit organization.

“It’s not about me making money. What’s important is preserving more mining heritage in the Leadville area and in Colorado,” Levin says. “We would like to get people on board that are interested about mining concerns. We can look at what grants might be available, and we can look at getting help from various supporters.”

Levin went on to explain that if the deal for him to purchase Black Cloud falls through, the alternative would be unfortunate. ASARCO would be obligated to tear down everything on the site.

“Quite honestly, it’s going to take a lot of people and support to pull this off,” Levin says.

Seppi, the current manager, agrees.

“This has a good chance of succeeding, and it would be great for the Leadville area,” Seppi says.

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