Little money left in land of 14ers
PARK COUNTY ” While several businesses in Park County say they hope climbers of the 14,000-foot peaks in the Mosquito Range can be accommodated, one county commissioner, James Gardner, expresses ambivalence.
“We probably derive almost nothing from the fourteener climbers,” he says. “I doubt that a lot of them even spend a dime while in Park County. The same thing goes for mountain bikers and backpackers.”
Only hunters spend significant sums there, he says.
“Part of this is our own fault,” he adds. Fairplay and Alma lack the hotels and other accommodations that might cause the peak-baggers, wildflower pickers and others to linger.
“If they spend money at all,” he says, “it’s likely to be in adjoining Summit County, with its well-developed tourism infrastructure.”
While the skiing-based recreation and real-estate economy has rushed into Summit County, Aspen, and a dozen other former mining towns in the West, Park County has become a place of commuters and scattered weekend cabins.
Most of the commuters live in the Bailey area, holding jobs in metropolitan Denver. However, a large number of people in the Fairplay-Alma area commute to jobs in Summit County.
Only 20 percent of Park County residents work in Park County.
This leads to a startling statistic. Park County has the lowest amount of commercial property per capita of any Colorado county.
Because the Colorado Constitution specifies low property taxes on residential property, this puts the burden on commercial properties, both for property tax and sales tax revenues. In Park County, that leaves local governments anemic.
“It’s a difficult situation here,” says Gardner. “We’re too close (to Summit County) to be far, and too far to be close. We’re the epitome of a bedroom community.”
Like others, he hopes for a return of mining, he says. “I am convinced that sooner or later, something will come along to make it profitable again,” he says.
However, only limited mining continued after World War II, with the South London Mine continuing gold production until the early 1980s. In 1995, the Sweet Home Mine resumed production, this time for the rhodochrosite crystals. The last underground mine, it closed a year ago.
Tellingly, the famous London Mine has earned more money for its water than for its gold in recent years, with the water being sold to a fishing club and for residential development north of Denver, says Ben Wright, the owner.
Maury Reiber, who holds an interest in 211 mines in the Mosquito Range, offers similar testimony. By his own admission, his mining during the last 50 years has produced more expense than income.
“Sometimes I think I’m nuts, but everybody has to do something,” he says. “At least it kept me out of the bars.”
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