Now, a combination of vandalism and neglect have the structures slumping sadly toward ruin.
The Ouray County Commissioners earlier this week hosted a discussion to determine what, if anything, can be done to save the buildings.
They sit on private property owned by Federal Resources Corp., the last company to operate the Camp Bird Mine into the 1980s. But County Road 361, which passes directly through the mining camp on its way up to Imogene Pass, belongs to the county. This was determined in a 2007 lawsuit the county brought against Federal Resources, when the company put a gate across the road to prevent public access through its property.
After the judge ruled in the county’s favor in 2008, the commissioners held many discussions about whether or not to re-open the road through the Camp Bird to the general public. Discussions progressed to the point of putting together a plan for signage and fencing to discourage trespassers from entering the old mine buildings, but ultimately nothing was done.
Last summer, vandals barraged several of the buildings, shattering their windows with rocks and bullets, looting their interiors and exposing them to the elements.
“As far as the motorized community is concerned, it has been a great thing to have (CR 361) open,” commissioner Heidi Albritton noted. “But from the angle of locals, there has been a huge, high level of frustration at the vandalism since we opened the road. Regardless of whose property it is, it is wrong.”
Albritton said that Ouray County Treasurer Jeanne Casolari has been in communication with Federal Resources Corp. about stabilizing the buildings.
“They indicated they have no interest in the structures themselves, and have no interest in stabilizing, improving or maintaining them,” she said. “It is a difficult position.”
County Road and Bridge Supervisor Chris Miller added that he had approached Federal Resources CEO Scott Butters about installing plexiglass in the windows of the structures, but that Butters said “Don’t touch it.”
In spite of this, Miller noted that the windows have in fact recently been boarded up, although nobody in the room seemed to know who had done that work.
Concerned citizen Ben Tisdel, meanwhile, asserted that the vandalism at the Camp Bird has escalated “since people have had the ability to drive right up to the structures” following the lawsuit.
He shared some photos which he said had been anonymously e-mailed to him last July, showing in detail the extent of vandalism and weather deterioration at the mine manager’s house and office. In addition to broken windows and rooftops that have been crushed by heavy snow loads, the photos show disturbing images of historic maps strewn across the floor of the mine office, and fireplaces whose mantles have been ripped off.
“This is really an emergency situation to save the buildings themselves and also to save the contents being removed and destroyed,” Tisdel said. He advocated for a temporary road closure that would allow time to fence the buildings off from the road or re-route the road away from the buildings.
Ken Emory, a representative of the Western Slope 4 Wheelers Club, took exception to Tisdel’s comment that motorized recreationalists were to blame for the vandalism, and reaffirmed his group’s commitment to being part of the solution to the problem by helping purchase and install fencing and “No Trespassing” signs.
He said that his group was against another road closure, since the route through the mining camp provides a popular short cut to Imogene Pass.
“The problem is that if the owner is never going to allow us on that property, those buildings are going to disappear,” Emory said. “We can’t do anything, and just the weather is enough to make them disappear. I don’t think anything is going to work without cooperation from them.”
Albritton asked fellow county commissioner Mike Fedel, who has roots in the mining industry, “to reach out with an olive branch” to Butters about a possible solution.
“I want to talk to him and see what he thinks,” Fedel agreed, “but the pond’s been poisoned by past legal action. I definitely want to talk to him and see what we can do here.”
Albritton suggested that if playing the card of historic preservation does not resonate with Federal Resources, that perhaps a different tactic might be necessary, like pointing out the property owner’s legal liability if people continue to trespass on the property.
Commissioner Lynn Padgett wondered what the Ouray County Sheriff’s office level of presence has been at the mining camp in recent years.
“We don’t get up there a whole lot,” admitted Sheriff Junior Mattivi. He said it would be helpful if people who witness acts of vandalism or trespassing would contact his department on their cell phones (yes, there is reception at the Camp Bird!) so deputies could apprehend them once they head back down the mountain. He also suggested installing motion detection cameras to catch violators in the act.
“I have probably run a hundred people out of that house,” Miller said. “They go right in and have a picnic. They got kids, blankets, all their food; we will have to build a prison wall to keep them out.”
The commissioners scheduled a work session at 1 p.m. next Wednesday, May 30, at the County Land Use Office to develop an action plan to protect the buildings before the summer season gets underway.
“We don’t have a specific thing in mind we want to see,” Albritton said. “We just want to come up with something to help people understand it’s a very special place and we want it to be taken care of.”