Stopping erosion in its tracks

Project aims to preserve hillside at old mine site near Durango

PERINS PEAK – Bright-colored straw logs being used for erosion control contrast with dark-green vegetation on steep terrain left bare when coal mining ended here nearly 90 years ago.

“Ten thousand linear feet of wattles (the 12-inch diameter straw logs) will be in place within days, and then we’ll reseed with native grasses and forbs,” project manager Kirstin Brown said Monday at the former Boston Mine site. “In the fall, we’ll plant 20,000 ponderosa pine, Gambel oak and mountain mahogany seedlings.”

The seedlings are being grown by Conservation Seeding and Restoration in Rifle for the state Division of Rehabilitation, Mining and Safety.

Straw mulch is being spread over 87 cubic yards of a biochar/compost mix that was laid on bare areas, and tree trunks were cut to build check dams in gullies that drain the 5-acre project area, Brown said.

RMC Consultants, based in Wheat Ridge, which has worked for Brown in Silverton, Redmesa and La Plata Canyon, is doing the erosion control. A Southwestern Conservation Corps crew will plant the trees. All work is being done by hand because the terrain is too steep for mechanized equipment, and the intention was to maintain the contour of the hillside, Brown said.

The Boston Coal and Fuel Co. and later the Calumet Fuel Co., exploited the mine from 1901 to 1926, taking 1 million tons of coal from the mountain, now part of Perins Peak Wildlife Area. G.C. Franklin, who arrived in Durango in 1894, organized the company after learning of a large coal deposit in the area from his Durango landlady, whom he saved from a burning house.

It took Franklin time to line up investors, but eventually he built a 5.2-mile rail line to the mine from a point on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad in Durango.

Parenthetically, Franklin knew of large coal deposits to the west, from Hay Gulch to the Mancos River. But it remained for others to develop them.

All that’s left of Perins – a community that at its peak had 200 inhabitants, a school, a company store and a boarding house – are sections of the railroad grade leading to the community, fragments of building foundations and a rusted-out railroad car. RMC workers have found a section of railroad track, a pulley and a shoe of a donkey probably used to move coal cars.

The first effort by the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety to restore the mine site occurred in 1992, Brown said. A mine portal was closed with polyurethane foam, with a hole left for bats.

A slow seepage of water from the mine laden with iron, copper and zinc was treated in a wetlands – a bacteria-laden mixture of limestone and compost that triggered metal precipitates. The operation also raised the pH factor of the water.

Over time, the seepage stopped, Brown said. So now the wetlands is being dismantled and the site revegetated. A second mine portal has been closed, she said.

“We’ll be out of here soon,” Brown said. “But the area will remain for wildlife.”

Perins Peak Wildlife Area comprises 12,000 acres north of U.S. Highway 160 west. It belongs to Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management. The area closes to the public from Nov. 15 to July 15 as a winter haven for deer, elk and napping black bears. The western half opens April 1 because no peregrine falcons nest there.