Empire Canyon mine caves in, leaving gaping hole | ParkRecord.com

Empire Canyon mine caves in, leaving gaping hole

A mine shaft in Empire Canyon caved in on Tuesday, leaving a gaping hole in the ground in what is another dramatic case involving remnants from Park City’s silver-mining heyday more than a century ago.

The shaft is located approximately midway up the canyon, which lies just south of Old Town. It sits close to a road above the water tank in Empire Canyon. Talisker Mountain Incorporated-controlled United Park City Mines said the shaft is 1,100 feet deep and was constructed in the early 20th century.

Officials with United Park City Mines cordoned off the area and put up danger signs to caution hikers and mountain bikers. midday Wednesday, United Park City Mines was filling the shaft with rock and dirt. Heavy machinery was at the site dumping the fill material into the shaft.

A prepared statement released by Talisker Mountain Incorporated called the situation "treacherous." The statement urges hikers, bicyclists and sightseers to avoid the area. United Park City Mines positioned people along the route to the site to order people back. The statement also cautions people to keep their pets under control in the area.

Kerry Gee, a United Park City Mines vice president, estimated it would take at least until next week to fill the shaft. He said a fence will be built around the opening as well. The fence was anticipated to be finished by as early as Friday.

"This is a serious issue, a serious hazard," Gee said, adding, "It’s a dangerous situation."

A United Park City Mines staffer monitoring surface-water flows in Empire Canyon discovered the caved-in shaft. Gee said it appears the cave-in was a result of years of deterioration in the strength of the timbers that made up the shaft. The timber rotted over the decades and finally gave way, he said.

Gee projected it would take between 3,000 and 6,000 cubic-yards of material to fill the shaft, a sum roughly equivalent to between 300 and 600 loads carried by a typical dump truck. The material is being gathered from land in the vicinity of the site.

Estimates of the size of the hole range from approximately 15 feet by 15 feet to 20 feet by 20 feet. Kurt Simister, a Park City Building Department official, said it is the largest opening linked to a mining site discovered in his 16 years at City Hall. He partially attributed the cave-in to the high levels of moisture in the ground as a result of the heavy winter and spring snowfall.

Gee on Wednesday tossed a few rocks into the shaft, waiting to hear the echo of them hitting the bottom as he tried to figure out the depth of the fill material that had been dumped down the shaft to that that point.

The shaft is at the top of the historic American Flag mine. The mine produced gold and silver, Gee said, noting that it was probably the only site in Park City that could be classified as a gold mine. Miners also brought lead, zinc and copper out of American Flag, he said. Gee said no mining is believed to have occurred at American Flag since the 1940s.

Historic mining sites dot the mountains ringing Park City, with there being long-abandoned buildings still standing as well as the shafts like the one that caved in on Tuesday.

The Park City Council recently enacted a law requiring landowners with large tracts of ground within the city limits to search for mine hazards and then close any that are found by late 2015. Leaders see the law as being important to protecting people who use the mountains for recreation. United Park City Mines falls under the jurisdiction of the law.

The Tuesday episode continues a string of high-profile incidents involving mining-era sites over several years. In one of the other cases, the top of a mine tunnel gave way as someone skied over, causing the person to crash and then forcing him to struggle out of the depression left in the snow. In another case, a dog tumbled down a historic mine shaft and was rescued by a firefighter.

Empire Canyon is a popular recreation spot, drawing hikers and mountain bikers in the summer and showshoers and skiers in the winter. There is not much recreation activity in the canyon in the spring, however, as snow conditions deteriorate at the upper elevations and mud is prevalent in the lower elevations.

Gee on Wednesday, though, forcefully demanded two snowboarders driving close to the site to leave the area. They were on a road that is often used to access to backcountry skiing and snowboarding terrain.

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