JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
EUREKA – Crumbling foundations are all that remain of this once-vibrant San Juan County mining town, which lived and died on the production and milling of ore.
Today, the former town site eight miles north of Silverton is best known as a popular camp site, but this year, for the first time, the privilege comes with a cost.
County officials said the conversion of Eureka to a paid 50-space campground and day-use area was necessary.
Pete McKay, a county commissioner, said it eliminates willy-nilly campsites and fire pits, and, above all, controls an “extreme” problem of sewage and human waste.
The campground is a step in development of logical corridors according to the county master plan and land-use code, McKay said.
Eureka became a spot on the map in the early 1870s when miners began to pan for gold. A mill to process ore followed.
No explosive growth occurred; rather, a steady influx of settlers was drawn by the establishment of a post office in 1875 and, in 1896, a link to the outside through a connection to the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad via the Silverton Northern Railroad.
Town elders petitioned for incorporation in 1881, a request granted in 1883.
“Eureka was the only community in the county, other than Silverton, to incorporate,” said Bev Rich, a local historian and the county treasurer.
But when the mill closed in 1939, the town went into a swoon, never to revive. The population dwindled and the area became a hodgepodge of parcels with different owners.
When the dust settled after 12 years of negotiations, San Juan County, the Bureau of Land Management and Sunnyside Gold Corp. had manageable holdings.
The federal agency consolidated its holdings around Animas Forks, another early-day mining center, McKay said. The county acquired the northern third of the valley, and Sunnyside holds the remainder to put on the market as home sites.
Organized camping provides stability, McKay said. The county, which will share any profits, plans to apply for Great Outdoors Colorado grants to make improvements.
Terri Brokering and her husband, Dr. Robert Brokering, a retired practitioner of family medicine in Glenwood Springs, own and operate nearby Eureka Lodge, a restored boardinghouse for miners.
“Over the years, we’ve watched the misuse and abuse of this wonderful, pristine valley,” Terri Brokering said. “Control was needed to prevent the defacing or destruction of the historic structures, to enforce fire bans and monitor illegal ATV or OHV riding.”
She said that when the county decided that “renegade” free camping at Eureka needed to be regulated, they submitted a bid and were awarded a contract to manage the campground.
“We’re not out to make money,” Brokering said. “We want to protect the environment and see if we can bring back what was lost.”
The couple’s contract with the county took effect June 1 and is valid for 10 years.
The campground has 41 individual sites and several group sites. The on-premises hosts are Jack and Linda McNutt from Harlingen, Texas.
The rest of the 50 acres are available free of charge for day use such as picnicking or hiking.
Tracy and Dan Kaderabek and daughter, Elle, 13, were there recently – the second year in a row they’ve visited from Manitowoc, Wis.
They like four-wheeling and panning for gold – and they arrived equipped for both activities.
The only difference is the $10 nightly fee to park their NRC custom coach and trailer, a whopping 83 feet from grill to tail lights.
“I understand trying to have order by making it a paying campground,” Tracy Kaderabek said. “But the yahoos, the kids up all night or the noise we worried about before we came last year didn’t happen.
“We didn’t see anything bad last year as a result of free camping,” Kaderabek said. “I don’t see that this makes a difference.”
Dan Kaderabek agreed. But not enough was done to prepare the terrain for occupancy, he said, pointing to the right rear of the coach, which was damaged when the vehicle bottomed out on uneven ground.
In laying out the campsites, the Brokerings respected the original configuration of the town. The campsites correspond to lot sizes in the town.
“It’s all dry camping now,” Jack McNutt said. “But there are plans for an RV dump station and maybe a water tap.”