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Author Paul Andersen on a historic mining battle in Crested Butte and Aspen’s fight against commoditization

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Courtesy of Paul Andersen
More than 30 Crested Butte citizens gather atop Mount Emmons (aka “The Red Lady”) on Aug. 22, 1981, to celebrate the defeat of AMAX’s proposed molybdenum mine. Celebrations continued in the town streets. The day became known as the “AMAX Going Away Party.”

In his new book, “The Town that Said ‘Hell, No!’: Crested Butte Fights a Mine to Save its Soul,” local journalist Paul Andersen writes that what stopped a proposed mine in the late 1970s and early 1980s and what might be able to save mountain towns such as Crested Butte and Aspen from commoditization today is the soul of a place and its people.

“The soul of a town is a unique measure of community, a collective way of being,” Andersen writes. “Honoring, celebrating and nurturing soul is a constant commitment.”

Fresh out of college, Andersen moved to Crested Butte in the early 1970s and became a reporter for the Gunnison Country Times and later the Crested Butte Chronicle.

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Crested Butte Chronicle Archives
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Courtesy of Paul Andersen
Author Paul Andersen gets himself into some hot water with Sunshine Williams at her iconic Sunshine’s Paradise Bathhouse in Crested Butte in the late 1970s. In his new book, Andersen writes, “Sunshine’s was a place where you could see more of your friends.”

After moving to Aspen in 1984, Andersen spent over three decades as a reporter, editor and columnist at The Aspen Times. Also, Andersen founded the nonprofit Huts for Vets and leads wilderness hikes and seminars for the Aspen Institute.

Andersen lives with his family in the Fryingpan River valley.

His latest book tells the story of an eclectic group of anti-mine zealots in Crested Butte — including long-haired misfits, crusading songwriters, dogged lawyers, backcountry acolytes, a disfigured mayor and Quaker-invoking scientists — who took a stand against international mining corporation AMAX.

“People who have the good fortune and good sense to live in communities adjacent to wild and beautiful places are left with a responsibility not only to enjoy them but to protect them,” he writes.

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Courtesy of Paul Andersen
Crested Butte Mayor W Mitchell throws a celebratory fist in the air at the “AMAX Going Away Party” at the top of Mount Emmons. Mitchell helped lead the town’s fight against the mine and arrived at the summit celebration in a helicopter.

The book also tells the story of Andersen’s own career as a journalist: first as he covers the battle to stop American Metals at Climax (AMAX) from mining on Mount Emmons (affectionately known by locals as “The Red Lady”) and later as he reports on efforts to stop luxury tourism and development from pushing out locals in both Aspen and Crested Butte.

“Maintaining a local community has been crucial to Aspen’s sense of place,” he writes. “But given the larger scale of the Roaring Fork Valley and far easier tourist access than in Crested Butte, those local values have been diluted by huge influxes of seasonal visitors and second homeowners.”

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Aspen Public Radio talked with Paul Andersen ahead of his author talk at Explore Booksellers in Aspen at 5 p.m. on April 2.

Listen to the conversation above.

Eleanor is an award-winning journalist and Morning Edition anchor. Eleanor has reported on a wide range of topics in her community, including the impacts of federal immigration policies on local DACA recipients, the Valley’s COVID-19 eviction and housing crisis, and hungry goats fighting climate change across the West through targeted grazing. Connecting with people from all walks of life and creating empathic spaces for them to tell their stories fuels her work.
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