Demolition Marks End of Elk Creek Mine

Rubble from the Oxbow silo. CREDIT KVNF / LAURA PALMISANO

The Elk Creek Mine in Gunnison County was once one of Colorado’s most productive coal mines. Its coal silo stood tall for 50 years, but last Friday it was demolished. While just another step in the mine’s shutdown, its collapse was symbolic.

Volunteer firefighters and old coal miners watched from a distance, and waited. The silence ended when dynamite ripped through the concrete tower, sending shockwaves up and down the valley.

There was no cheering for the explosion. Just more silence.

In late 2012, a fire started deep in the mine. No one was injured, but they had to seal it shut in an attempt to suffocate the fire. That also meant sealing in equipment worth tens of millions of dollars.  A year later, they reopened the mine to try to recover the machines, but the fire started right back up.

“It was devastating for everybody, it was depressing,” says Mike Ludlow, the president of Oxbow Mining. “We made the decision that it was not worth risking life to recover equipment.”

When the mine closed, hundreds of miners were laid off. One of those miners, Tom Anderson, came back to see the silo come down.

“Actually, the first time I saw this silo was 1974,” he says. “I’ve been in and out of this valley for a long time. It’s the end of mining out here, as far as I’m concerned.”

He worked at Elk Creek for 20 years. His wife, Judy, was with him.

“What I felt when it came down: rest in peace,” she says.

“Well it’s right next to the graveyard,” says Tom, “so I guess it’s OK to have a funeral.”

Over the coming months, the mine will be sealed shut and covered in topsoil