by Rick Langenberg:
The Cripple Creek and Victor tourism engine has revved up to another gear with the announcement that a long-standing train attraction will stay on track.
In addition, the aspen jeep tours, a popular autumn getaway in the district, will remain unaltered for several more years due to delays in the North Cresson mining project, proposed near the doorsteps of Cripple Creek, according to officials from the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company (CC&V). And in another bout of good news, the first district-wide shuttle service, offering daily rides between Cripple Creek and Victor, has made its debut. This service, offering four trips a day, will kick into full-gear shortly with two new shuttle buses.
Contrary to earlier concerns, resulting from the Cresson expansion project, the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad (CCVRR) will proceed on schedule and will open for another season, starting May 25. Only now, the four-mile round trip will feature a slight change in course due to the inability of the train to access the ghost town of Anaconda, which has become the new proposed site of a CC&V valley leach facility and high grade mill. Anaconda typically represented the end of the train’s previous route from its station in Cripple Creek, next to the District Museum. In the past, the train just reversed course at this point and made a return trek to Cripple Creek.
Instead, the railroad has utilized a change in route and will turn around at the World Fair Claim, a highly productive mining claim during the 1890s gold rush. More importantly, the change in course won’t impact the quality of the trip, according to the railroad owners. “We are very excited about the upcoming year and the opportunity to provide our customers with a new experience,” said Jim Birmingham, general manager of the CCVRR, in an official announcement. He also believes the changes won’t detract from the experience that will give patrons more of a glimpse into modern mining operations. “We are thankful that we did not lose some of the best features of our ride. We have people from all over the world that love to hear the train echo through Echo Valley and learn about the history of the area.”
The news that the railroad is still on track is being warmly welcomed by city leaders. The train, which started in 1967, has been a mainstay of the Cripple Creek/Victor tourist industry for decades. It attracts an estimated 40,000 patrons during the summer and has become one of the staunchest tourist survivors, weathering changes in the district with limited stakes gambling and the Cresson mining project. “This is a vitally important family attraction,” said Cripple Creek City Administrator Ray White in a previous interview, when concerns occurred regarding the future of the railroad. Similar sentiments were echoed by members of the Cripple Creek City Council.
Last spring, the CCVRR and the mine were still in negotiations regarding a small parcel that would enable the railroad to make a “Y” turnaround and operate in the future. Differences persisted over whether the railroad could obtain just the surface or mineral rights to the property in question.
In a previous meeting in March, CC&V Community Affairs Manager Jane Mannon made it clear that the mine wanted the attraction to continue, but that it had already purchased a 1,600-foot section of the track in Squaw Gulch from the railroad as part of its expansion effort, enabling the Cresson venture to continue until 2025. With these changes, concerns mounted that the train may get de-railed. Birmingham, though, expressed confidence that the mine and railroad could resolve their differences in a way that would allow the train to stay on track for this year and in the future. “We are hoping that we can open again in May (2013) and are working on it,” said the railroad company owner.
Apparently, that hope has now become a reality. Under the new arrangement, CCVRR will continue to have trains leave their 1894 station about every 40 minutes and stop at the end of the line at Echo Valley, which overlooks the Shelf Road and the ghost towns of Mound City and Berry. For more information about the CCVRR attraction, call 689-2640 or visit them online at CrippleCreekRailroad.com.
Cripple Creek mining delays
Although CC&V’s expansion has impacted the railroad’s route slightly, CC&V won’t be proceeding with its expansion project near Cripple Creek’s doorstep as promptly as many expected. Due to some storage issues, the North Cresson venture, a key part of Amendment 10, will get delayed about two years. Originally, the brunt of this project was expected to occur, starting in 2014. Now that mining effort, located mostly along a hillside across from the Cripple Creek Heritage Center, won’t occur until 2016, with tree removal slated for 2015. “We will have a couple more years of aspen tours there,” announced Mannon at last week’s Cripple Creek council meeting. This section of the district is considered one of the prime spots for touring the fall foliage season.
This announcement didn’t generate any protests from Cripple Creek leaders. Although the Cripple Creek City Council has signed off on the North Cresson venture, most civic leaders are less than thrilled over this particular mining effort and the visual impacts it may impose on the community.
New district-wide shuttle
Last week, White also announced that the city has started its new district-wide shuttle, part of a substantial grant Cripple Creek, Victor, the Community of Caring and other entities received to offer better transportation service in southern Teller. A key focus of this grant is a district-wide shuttle service, called the Gold Camp Connector Shuttle. The service kicked off on May 13, with four daily departures from the Aspen Mine Center in Cripple Creek and four departure and pick-up times in Victor (at the 3rd Street Plaza). The departure and pick-up times will occur, according to a fixed schedule. White says the city hopes to work out the kinks in the service and then do a major media blitz, once new shuttle buses are obtained. A round-trip cost for the service currently is only $1 for citizens, with cheaper rates for seniors and young kids. For more information, call 689-3584.
For years, transportation woes have been cited as a major problem for local residents in southern Teller. Besides a district-wide shuttle, the new transportation grant has paved the way for increased hours on the city’s shuttle.