Re-Emergence of Mining in Ouray County Sparks Excitement Among Local Business Owners

Above, the Revenue Virginius Mine as shown in a photo from the Star Mine Operations web page. With the mining industry coming back to the San Juans, other local businesses are finding cause to celebrate. Courtesy photo.

By Caitlin Switzer

REGIONAL—(February 19) As plans move forward to re-open Ouray’s famed camp Bird Mine and move the Revenue Virginius silver mine from exploration into production, many entrepreneurs in other local businesses are grateful for the restoration of one of the region’s most essential industries.

According to Samantha Wright of Watch Newspapers, the Camp Bird mine’s new operator, Caldera Mineral Resources LLC, is committed to responsible mining, and has pledged both financial and in-kind resources to ensure that operations are done in an environmentally sound fashion. Wright noted that the company is now six months into the process of revitalizing the historic mine that made Ouray Prospector Thomas Walsh, who struck gold at the Camp Bird in 1896, one of the wealthiest men of his time.

Wright has also reported recently on the efforts of Star Mine Operations to re-open the Revenue Virginius silver mine, noting on Feb. 9 that the Colorado Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety had approved with conditions the company’s application for a mine permit. According to Wright, 76 miners are currently employed at the Revenue Virginius, which will shift into production phase once stabilization work and construction of an underground mill are complete.

Although David Houtz of Ridgway makes his living turning precious metals and gems into one-of-a-kind jewelry, the longtime owner of Rocky Mountain Jewelry (145 North Cora, Ridgway) finds himself more excited about the fact that some old friends will be returning to the region.

“I am excited about the mines reopening, because honest people will be doing an honest day’s work for an honest wage,” Houtz said. “Tourism is a seasonal economy at best; the return of mining is a good thing all around for everyone, and it also will be fun. My friend is working at the Camp Bird, and there are guys there who worked with his dad. Old friends of mine who worked underground are looking at coming back—they’re in their 40’s and 50’s, and in great shape. “I am very excited,” Houtz said. “This is the best thing that could ever happen!”

Erin Eddy Of Ouray Brewing Company (607 Main St., Ouray) believes that the impact of the mine has been immediate, and will be good for Ouray overall.

“I’m sure it’s having an impact on our business although it’s difficult to track,” Eddy said. “I think the big impact is simply on jobs and folks having money to spend locally in the grocery stores, liquor stores and with retail merchants.”

For another longtime local business, Ouray Silversmiths (630 Main St., Ouray; 312 East Main, Montrose), the possibility of eventually being able to work with locally mined silver and gold is a captivating prospect. The artisans at Ouray Silversmiths have worked with local high grade in the past, acquired from those forced to part with cherished supplies in a down economy, and have found it vastly superior in quality.

Company Founder Melanie Kline, internationally known for her designs, calls the re-emergence of the mining industry “super exciting.”

“It means a lot to us to know that there is going to be a source for high grade ore mined here,” Kline said.

Son and fellow jeweler Dan Kline shares her excitement. “There are people who still have some of the old, local high grade,” he said. “People love it when we have that kind of ore to put into jewelry—we do a lot of work in two tones, gold and silver. As local, high grade ore becomes more available from a local mine it will be very exciting.”