The Hanging Flume: It's a piece of history here in western Colorado. But over the years, it has fallen into disrepair. Now, work is underway to restore part of the flume for future generations.
"It's a work of art, it really is," said Kent Diebolt, team leader from Vertical Access, a company working to reconstruct part of the flume.
The Hanging Flume was built between 1889-1891 to assist in gold mining operations. Located in the canyon carved by the San Miguel River just before it meets the Dolores River, the flume was a canal of sorts to transfer water to the gold mining operations. The miners used the the water, assisted by gravity to separate gold from other minerals. The waterway stretched for ten miles along the San Miguel River and existed in part as a ditch but also as a hanging wooden trough, known as a flume.
While the miners found gold, after a few years of mining, it was realized that the operation was not economical. Eventually, the flume was no longer being used and its pieces were scavenged.
"The flume was built with about 1.8 million board feet of timber and people would walk through the flume box and dismantle the side boards and the floor boards and that ended up in some of the communities around this area," said project manager Ron Anthony.
For years afterward, the flume sat untouched, slowly being weathered by the environment until people realized that it should be preserved. Since then, groups have come together to discover the history of the flume and protect it. Thanks to private donations by the JM Kaplan Fund, the Hendricks Foundation and more along with the support of the BLM and Western Colorado Interpretive Association, part of the original flume is being reconstructed.
"This effort on this project is to reconstruct a segment about forty eight feet long that has the flume box, (the floor boards and side boards) that will allow people to see from below what was here when the flume was operational," Anthony said.
Builders are using the same type of timber to reconstruct the flume as well as some of the original methods. But it takes a special type of worker to take part in the project. The flume is suspended half-way up a two hundred foot cliff! Builders have to repel into work, not to mention the effort it takes to make sure building supplies can get to where they need to be.
"It has been a physically demanding project to get the material down here," said T.J. Short, a carpenter from Naturita. "It gives us a new-found respect for the old-timers that did it initially. We have the power tools where they didn't. It's a humbling experience for sure."
"We have felt as though we got closer to the builders, now that we're down there ourselves doing some of the work," Diebolt added. He said it was also very rewarding to discover how the original flume was built and the hardships the builders endured. He said that some of the techniques remain a mystery, even to this day.
Those working on the project seem to understand its historical importance.
Anthony says that Colorado's Hanging Flume is the last of its kind anywhere in the USA. "We have something here that no one else has in the country, so the opportunity for education and public interpretation of what mining history is here is critically important."
They hope to have the reconstruction project finished by Sunday. Until then, they are inviting the public to come and view the work from the road across the river. To access the site, travel Colorado Highway 141 to Uravan and cross the San Miguel River there. Head east on Y11 Road three miles for a good view of the work.