In the late 1800’s, the Gunsight Bridge area was home to the Anthracite Mine. This mine produced over one million tons of coal and was the end point for a spur of the Denver Rio Grande Railroad, which crossed the Slate River at Gunsight Bridge and turned around just upriver. The mine closed in 1929, and the area became a popular recreation hub for locals and visitors. Hikers, bikers, and floaters enjoy the Gunsight Bridge area every summer, and skiers take the Nordic trails to Gunsight Bridge throughout the winter. It’s a well-loved spot that requires ongoing care. Today the Gunsight Bridge area is owned and maintained by the Crested Butte Land Trust.
In 2003, the Land Trust purchased the 120-acre Anthracite Mine property from Pitkin Iron Corporation. At that time, only a skeleton of a bridge was in place, and the Land Trust repaired it for use by hikers and bikers, installing new decking and hand railings. Around this same time, the Land Trust was also pursuing the reclamation of the Peanut Mine. This two-year project familiarized the Land Trust with reclamation projects and applicable partners, like the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (CDRMS).
In 2011, the Land Trust again partnered with CDRMS to take on its next mine reclamation project: Anthracite Mine. Three acres of wetlands and four acres of upland were restored through clearing and revegetation. To accomplish this, approximately 15,000 wetland plants were planted with help from volunteers. A cattle load-out area and visitor parking lot were regraded and stabilized, and an emphasis was placed on restoring the original topography of the wetlands. The Land Trust continues to monitor, reseed, and mitigate the parcel annually to prevent noxious weeds from growing and to ensure slope stabilization along the Slate River.
While restoring the Anthracite Mine, the Land Trust also began working with the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition on a watershed assessment of the Upper Slate River. The assessment identified a quarter mile reach of the river, up and downstream from Gunsight Bridge, as being impaired, ultimately leading the Land Trust to prioritize river restoration in the Upper Slate River Valley. The Land Trust worked closely with a team of ecologists to better understand what exactly was happening to the river, and several direct and indirect stressors were identified. Unfortunately, Gunsight Bridge itself was found to be the most severe.
The old bridge’s design and structure were found to be contributing to the instability of the river. These findings and the reality of a failing bridge spurred a two-phase Gunsight Bridge Replacement Project. For phase one, Chris Haaland, owner of Canyon Bridge Co which specializes in the design, fabrication, and construction of environmentally sensitive and remote pedestrian suspension bridges, was hired to assess the best options. Several on-site tests indicated that a relief culvert and a 100’ suspension bridge would positively impact the river, its floodplain, and the surrounding habitat while also better withstanding the dynamic nature of the Slate River. Phase two of the project, constructing the new suspension bridge, began in 2018, and the new Gunsight Bridge opened to the public in 2019.
This massive undertaking was made possible through funding from and partnerships with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Recreational Trails Program, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, the Town of Crested Butte, 1% for Open Space, the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the Laura Jane Musser Fund, Pig Difference, New Belgium, Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, Crested Butte Nordic, the Bureau of Land Management, the Crested Butte Music Festival, Western Spirit Cycling, and Grassy Creek Foundation. The Land Trust is grateful for all of its partners, volunteers, and supporters for making projects like this possible.
But, we’re still not done! In 2020, the Land Trust collaborated with the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and the Bureau of Land Management to create a new trail in the Lower Loop area. The Coal Train Trail completes the connection between the Town of Crested Butte and the Raggeds Wilderness, allowing access all the way to Oh-Be-Joyful Campground and the Raggeds Wilderness beyond, without the need for motorized vehicles. This trail also provides a handicap-accessible trail for all abilities and protects sensitive wetland habitats.
The Crested Butte Land Trust is committed to the ongoing care of Gunsight Bridge, the Slate River wetlands, and all of our nearly 6,000 acres of conserved properties. Land Trust staff monitor the Gunsight Bridge area annually to ensure ongoing bank stabilization, bridge maintenance, and mitigation of human impacts on the area. Your support ensures the ongoing care of our community’s backyard trail systems, wildlife habitats, ranchlands, and more. Thank you for investing in your community’s future!
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