SOUTH FORK, CO., (October 31, 2018): Summitville has a long Rio Grande County history. Located 17 miles from Highway 160 off Wolf Creek Pass, this area was once one of Colorado's largest and richest gold mining sites. Groups of miners arrived in the early 1870’s. By 1883, the town was deserted. The town was revived in 1934 with deeper, underground mining. There were 70 homes for miners and families as well as an integrated water system throughout the valley. By 1938, Summitville had 2 operating mills, 2 stores, a school, and 60-70 occupied residences as well as a large boarding house for 300 men. During the 1940’s, copper was mined as well as gold. The town produced significant copper during the World War II era. By 1956, the population dwindled to 12 miners and was abandoned, but mining continued into the 1990s.
In 1984, 1,230 acres in Summitville area was acquired by the Canadian-based Galactic Resources Ltd., a subsidiarySummitvilleConsolidatedMiningCompany,Inc.(SCMCI). Anewlarge-scaleopenpitoperation covered 550 acres. New techniques were used to extract gold from otherwise uneconomic ore. A cyanide spill leaked chemical into the Alamosa River. The mining operations finished and Galactic Resources filed for bankruptcy. SCMCI then closed the site and converted on-site equipment for the detoxification process, with around 160 million gallons of stored water needing treatment. After the company insolvency proceedings were completed in a British Columbia court, the US Government declared the site a Superfund cleanup site in 1994 and spent $155 million cleaning up the site. The bankruptcy court deemed that the land be owned by Rio Grande County; management of the property is done by the Colorado Department of Public Health & the Environment (CDPHE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Recent partnerships with Rio Grande County, the Rio Grande National Forest, CDPHE, the EPA, and other local partners are redeveloping the site into a working asset site of outdoor recreation and heritage tourism. This area is used extensively in the summer by mountain bikers, ATV/OHV users, and tourists on a nice mountain drive because of the excellent two-wheel drive road and the drivable loops. In the fall, hunters also utilize the area. In 2016, a picnic shelter, picnic tables and interpretive signs, were installed. This week, a vault toilet was installed to address the increased need for facilities for visitors.
Funding and support comes from Rio Grande County through Conservation Trust Funds, Rio Grande County’s Road & Bridge Department, the Rio Grande National Forest, Department of Local Affairs, EPA, CDPHE, Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team (RWEACT) and the El Pomar Foundation.