Sale marks new chapter at history-rich Smuggler Mine
The $7.5 million dollar sale of Aspen’s Smuggler Mine Friday marks another chapter for a piece of land rich with history. The limited liability company Aspen Green Mountain purchased the 29-acre parcel from a group of friends whose connection with Smuggler includes heartache and hard work. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.
Dana Knight loads a trailer on a cloudy, rainy day. The now former owner of the Smuggler Mine property ran an auto repair shop on it for years, not far from the mine’s entrance.
"I am cleaning out. I don’t think I’ve ever made money without being mechanical in my lifetime. Ever since high school I’ve been bending wrenches," he says.
Knight used to live in a bus on the property. He has a lot of good memories here.
"It was fun. It was fun working together for years and years."
He’s one of seven former owners many of whom continued to prospect the mine and give public tours long after Aspen’s once-thriving mining industry slowed, following the crash of silver in 1893.
"He just really needed to be here around 1890," says Chris Preusch.
Preusch is another former owner. He and the others have their late friend Stefan Albouy to thank for the land.
"Mining was his passion and he was good at it. He was smart. You always hear of those people who are just brilliant, and he was one of those people."
Right out of Aspen high school, Preusch remembers Albouy bought a lease for $2/year to restart mining at Smuggler.
"Stefan comes wheelin’ in the door and says, ‘I got it!’ And we immediately started by reopening the tunnels, re-laying rail and opening up the mine. We all pitched in and helped him."
The friends spent hours underground with Albouy and then tragedy struck.
"Then in 1994, in rolls the worst day of my life," says Preusch.
The day Albouy took his life at the mine is a tough memory. Albouy was at the tail-end of a years-long battle with the Environmental Protection Agency that labeled the area a Superfund site.
In the years after his death, the steep stretch of land across the valley from Aspen mountain eventually became owned by the seven longtime friends.
"You can see some of the silver veins, right here, that are intact…."
Inside the mine, volunteer Fred Wilson leads a tour.
"...And, if you look higher up through here, you can see how the miners just followed the ore body, wherever it went."
The cool, dark mine is lit by flashlights and a few over-hanging bulbs . Over the years, the owners have discovered old mining equipment and even unused dynamite.
At his shop, Dana Knight continues to clear out auto equipment. He says the sale is bittersweet.
"It’s sad. But, this place isn’t going to leave. It’ll be right here. And, hopefully the new owners will be good stewards of the mine. The mine is fantastic because it’s like walking 100 years back in time. It’s the neatest thing in town."
Pitkin County rules allow for two 15,000 square foot homes to be built on the land. The new buyers won’t comment about their plans but, former owner Chris Preusch says they want to preserve and enhance its mining history. He says the public tours and the annual Fourth of July cannon blasts will continue.