The town of Silver Plume recently purchased 200 acres of Brown Gulch and Republican Mountain in an effort to protect cultural resources, preserve open space and protect the history of the town.
On Jan. 30, town officials closed on the historic land purchase after raising $600,000 in just shy of a year. The town of around 200 people saw donations from businesses, foundations and individuals from the community.
The land the town purchased has a history for Silver Plume that won’t soon be forgotten. The purchased area includes 95 mining claims and what was once the Mendota Mine, which saw its heyday in the late 1800s.
Doug Watrous, founder of Jack Pine Mining, was a fixture in the Silver Plume community for years, known for his passion for mining.
Fabyan Watrous, Doug’s wife, managed Jack Pine mining until her death in 2017. She served as a Clear Creek County Commissioner for many years and was also an important facet in the community, according to Fabyan Watrous's daughter, Debbie Rutzebeck, who sold the town the land.
Doug acquired multiple mining claims from his father in Clear Creek County, but Mendota Mine in Silver Plume was always his “pride and joy,” Rutzebeck said.
“The family believes he would be happy to see its heritage preserved,” Rutzebeck said.
The swath of land the town has purchased holds significance for the residents, both in its history and future.
“Silver mining is what built the town of Silver Plume,” said Silver Plume Mayor Sam McCloskey.
McCloskey has a personal connection to the area as well.
“It’s near and dear to me because I had several of my ancestors who worked these mines,” he said.
McCloskey likened the land purchase to a 200-acre museum, due to all the historical significance the area holds.
The area is also home to a bighorn sheep herd, which the land purchase will protect by designating the area as open space.
Cynthia Neely was the project manager helping to facilitate the land purchase. She explained the area is part of the Georgetown-Silver Plume National Landmark District, which has the purpose of preserving the history of silver mining in the area.
“For 30 years, one of the goals of the historic agencies in the district has been to secure the mountainsides in the districts,” Neely said.
Not only does this 200-acre land purchase include the iconic Mendota Mine, but the sites of an estimated 20 mines that saw active operation in the 19th century, according to Neely.
Neely hoped that beyond the preservation of the cultural remnants of the mines and the protection of nature, the area could become a space for people to learn about the rich history of Silver Plume.
“We want to share a story,” she said.
Now, the town waits for the completion of the conservation easement of the area, which will likely take a few more months due to weather.