by Rick Langenberg:
Will a popular tourist attraction in Cripple Creek for nearly five decades stop chugging down the track due to the expansion pursuits of the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine Company?
Questions surrounding the future of the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad have surfaced in recent weeks as CC&V gets ready for its latest mining project that will wipe out the last 500 yards of the train’s route to make room for the construction of a new valley leach facility and high grade mill. The mine expansion also calls for the rerouting of Hwy. 67, and is part of overall plans to allow the Cresson venture to continue until 2025.
Despite these developments, Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad owner Jim Birmingham is optimistic that the train attraction will still operate. But he admits their company must do a lot more work and pursue an alternative end to its former route in the abandoned mining town of Anaconda, which no longer will exist. “We are hoping that we can open again in May and are working on it,” said Birmingham, who cited weather and the ability to hire more people to lay track as critical components of their timetable. He also suggested that the railroad must resolve some legal issues with the CC&V mine, but wouldn’t comment on any details.
According to CC&V Community Affairs Manager Jane Mannon, if the railroad decides not to operate anymore, it is not because of the actions of the mine. Last week, Mannon addressed the Cripple Creek City Council and sought to do “rumor control” regarding a bevy of reports, indicating that the expansion pursuits of CC&V would kill the train attraction, a tourist business that has existed in the Cripple Creek/Victor area since 1967. “That’s not true,” said Mannon. She did concede that the mine and the railroad are still engaged in mediation over an exchange of an adjacent parcel, enabling the train to make a turn around and compensate for a section of its former route that it can’t use anymore. But she stressed that this should not affect the railroad’s operation, and if anything, it would just shorten the current route.
The CC&V community affairs manager told the council that the mine agreed to purchase railroad property, including the 1,600-foot section of its track in Squaw Gulch, representing the final route portion for a “substantial sum of money.” “That wouldn’t impact them,” added Mannon, regarding the purchase agreement completed in 2010. Ironically, the Cripple Creek/Victor Railroad actually purchased this track from one of the earlier mine operators in the district, Golden Cycle, in 1976.
As part of the CC/V agreement, she said the mine had agreed to give the railroad, free of charge, an adjacent, small parcel, enabling the railroad to construct a “Y” turn-around, so the train could return on the original track. But Mannon stated that a slight disagreement has existed over the rights pertaining to this parcel. She said CC&V has only agreed to transfer “surface” rights and not “mineral” rights. She said the mine and the railroad are currently engaged in mediation over this issue.
Birmingham didn’t deny these claims, but suggested that the legal rift is a little bit more involved. He said he couldn’t comment on the situation due to a confidentiality agreement. Mannon said she hoped the railroad would continue their popular four-mile round trip that attracts an estimated 40,000 patrons a year. It reigns as one of the few historic steam locomotives in Colorado.
Similar sentiments were voiced last week by several Cripple Creek council members. Veteran Councilman Terry Wahrer expressed bafflement about how the loss of this small portion of the track would halt the railroad operation. Several questions were raised by council regarding how the views would be impacted.
Mannon believes that train patrons would still experience stellar views of the Cripple Creek/Victor district. According to Birmingham, the railroad is striving to make the last phase of its ride as “interesting as possible” to make up for the route section it will lose this summer. He said the focus of the attraction will change slightly to emphasize CC&V’s modern mining operation, similar to what is planned at the Cripple Creek Heritage Center.
But that said, he stated that the railroad is on track to continue to operate their attraction. “We are hopeful,” said Birmingham. That would be good news for city officials, who have cited the community’s non-gaming attractions as an important link to the town’s goal of attracting more tourists. “This is a vitally important family attraction,” said City Administrator Ray White. “I hope they (the railroad and mine) get this resolved.” However, White noted that city officials have had no involvement whatsoever with the railroad company. Previous Cripple Creek Mayor Ed Libby once tried to develop a partnership between the city and the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad and opted for expanding their route to Victor. But the railroad owners remained skeptical about this arrangement.