Saving western Colorado coke ovens could cost $1M or more | VailDaily.com
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Saving western Colorado coke ovens could cost $1M or more

John ColsonThe Aspen TimesAspen CO, Colorado
John Colson/The Aspen TimesThis line of coke ovens in Redstone, which date from the late 1800s and are owned by Pitkin County, is due for an overhaul to stabilize most of the ovens and restore at least two of them
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REDSTONE, Colorado A group of Redstone, Colorado residents gave their blessing recently to a plan to stabilize, and in some cases rehabilitate, a bank of crumbling, beehive-shaped coke ovens across the highway from the historic village.Completion of the project, however, remains perhaps two years away, as Pitkin County and other agencies gear up to apply for a series of grants to fund the work.According to one county official, the estimated cost of the stabilization and restoration portions of the project is $1.2 million, based on planning done by JVA Consulting Engineers of Boulder. The companys proposal is to return four of the ovens to their original operating condition and appearance, and stabilize as many as 65 of the remaining ovens.But, said Crystal Yates-White of the countys land management department, the JVA plan may have to be scaled back somewhat.It will all depend on the funding, she told a meeting of Redstone residents recently.The ovens, built of special heat-resistant brick in the late 1800s, were used to carbonize, or superheat, coal from the nearby Colorado Fuel & Iron mines in Coal Basin, south of Carbondale, and convert it into coke, a critical ingredient of the process for smelting iron ore in CF&I plants in Pueblo.As originally constructed, the beehive-shaped ovens were coated with a protective coating of material to hold the bricks together, buried under an insulating layer of dirt and hidden by a retaining wall made of stone.Coal was loaded into the ovens through a hole in the top, reached by a small-gauge rail line, and the coke was raked out through a cylindrical tunnel that poked out through the retaining wall. The coke was loaded into small ore cars that rolled along another set of small-gauge rails to a nearby loading dock, where the coke was transferred to train cars bound for Pueblo.The ovens were abandoned in the early 1900s, when CF&I stopped using them, and they began falling in on themselves. One bank of the ovens was reactivated in the 1950s by the most recent firm to mine coal in the area, Mid-Continent Coal & Coke. But the 1950s-era retaining wall is made of modern materials, and that bank of ovens is not part of the preservation project.The ovens became public property in 2004, when Aspen Valley Land Trust, a nonprofit land conservation group based in Carbondale, sold them to Pitkin County.The AVLT had bought the site in 2003 from Mid-Continent, which went bankrupt in the 1990s and was selling off its assets. Redstone historical activists learned that the site was being considered for a gas station or convenience store, and AVLT stepped in to buy the ovens and hold them until the county could buy them.At a meeting of local preservationists on April 6, at the Church at Redstone, county officials and consultants from the BlueGreen landscape and design firm, and Esse Design, outlined a landscaping plan to go along with the JVA project, to save the crumbling ovens from the elements and the ravages of time.We also need to protect them from ourselves, Yates-White said, referring to the damage caused when tourists go into the ovens or remove parts of them as keepsakes.The landscaping plan involves planting of native species, the use of railroad ties on a footpath that will take visitors in front of the ovens, and creation of a Coke Ovens Historic Park behind the ovens.The plan calls for between two and four of the ovens to be fully restored to their original shape and appearance, while another 65 or so will be stabilized to prevent further deterioration.In addition, a protective wall about 3 feet high roughly the same height as the nearly vanished wharf that once carried the coke to the rail loading dock will act as a barrier to prevent tourists from walking up to the ovens and touching them or going inside them.The plan also calls for a modestly sized sign to inform visitors of some of the structures basic history, and the placement of smaller signs around the area to direct a visitor to a folding interpretive guide map with more historical information. In addition, there would be slight improvement of the pullout and parking area alongside the highway.We want all these features to be very low-key, said Ryan Vugteveen of BlueGreen.The plan is to be presented to residents of the area again as refinements are made to the landscaping plan, including examples of what the different signs planned for the park will look like.Yates-White said the next meeting about the project will be on April 29 at the Church at Redstone, and that another is planned for mid-May.jcolson@aspentimes.com


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