A restoration effort decades in the making
Sally Elliott has been deeply involved in the community for the past 25 years, whether it be holding elected offices or in various nonprofit efforts. Before all that, though, she was a ski instructor in the mid-1980s, new to Park City.
"When Phil Jones was the president I was a brand-new ski instructor here. I had taught on the East Coast, in Washington, D.C., and I started and ran a ski school in Seoul, South Korea, when we lived there," she said. "And we moved here because I had never been able to work on a big mountain."
Not long after her arrival Elliott said she began to take notice of Park City’s rich mining history, the remnants of which were scattered all over the mountain.
"The second year I was here I said ‘Phil, you know, there is a lot of interesting stuff around. Can I do some history tours of the mountain? And kind of show people what’s available on the mountain and how it came to be a ski resort?’" she remembers saying. "And he said to me, ‘All right, young lady, but don’t you get me involved in historic preservation.’"
After 30 years of gathering the history of Park City and working toward preserving it, Elliott and a group of other passionate preservationists — including Sandra Morrison, executive director of the Park City Historical Society & Museum — are on the verge of a breakthrough. Elliott said she began talking with leadership from new Park City Mountain Resort owner Vail Resorts after the sale was finalized in 2014.
"They’ve been phenomenal to work with," she said. "They’ve come to the table, big time. Of course they needed approval for Miners Camp and the Quiksilver Gondola. So we promised to support them in that if they supported us with preservation.
"But they were already all over it, really. They understood they bought the brand, and the brand in Park City includes old mining structures."
Morrison said, simply, "It’s what makes our town unique."
Elliott and Morrison have formed an ad-hoc committee under the umbrella of the Historical Society that will coordinate the effort to preserve and restore the mining structures and equipment on the mountains surrounding Park City, including those at PCMR and Deer Valley Resort. Wherever the structures are, Morrison said, they will be catalogued and a determination will be made as to how critical they are and how much it might cost to preserve them.
Vail Resorts agreed to kick off the effort with a $50,000 contribution, and Morrison said the committee will soon begin fundraising.
"We had previously met with Vail and said you know, obviously, for Vail to do fundraising, they don’t have the resources of a nonprofit," Morrison said. "And particularly, they don’t have the ability to offer people tax-deductible donations. And we really wanted to see this happen so we said, let us help you with the fundraising and get this project off the ground. I mean obviously we’ve been talking about these structures for a very long time."
Elliott said the monies raised beyond the initial $50,000 contribution will be overseen by the committee. There are probably more than 100 structures in various states of disrepair, she said, and that means they are going to need the public’s help.
"Some of them are $2,000 projects, and some are $100,000. This is a huge effort, as you can imagine," she said. "And it’s going to take a lot of money."
The committee plans to do a public launch sometime next month, at which point Elliott said they will share more details of the fundraising efforts they have planned and which structures they want to prioritize.
An example Morrison gave is the California Comstock Mill, which she said is familiar to most. The mill is located at the base of the Keystone run in Thaynes Canyon.
"We had a structural engineer go up there back in the late 2000s and it has seriously decayed since then," she said. "You can see there are pole shores holding it up. And we did that not this last winter but the one before that. We all know at some point we’re due for a big winter. And the structural engineer came up with that plan of, what can we do temporarily and at a low cost to buy a little time.
"Because what happened is, the back half of it, one of the horizontal beams failed and the back has imploded, but the front half of it is tied to the back. So if that one goes down any further, the whole thing is going to tip backward and be gone. Then we’re left with a pile of rubble on the ground."
The hope, Morrison said, is to bring a crane to the site and carefully pull the structure apart "like a jigsaw" to assess the wood.
"It’s been on the ground now for two winters covered in snow, so how rotten is it? And hopefully, because we are a pretty dry climate, it has a lot of air flow in there and hasn’t rotted, and we can start standing it back up again," she said. "A lot of it depends on what you find when you get into it."
When the effort does officially launch, Elliott said they will have no shortage of ideas for fundraisers to present.
"Thousands. We’ve got thousands of ideas," she said. "We’d like to get people up for ski tours to see the structures. When the summer comes around we’d like to do hikes, have picnics up there. People need to hear the stories. That’s how we tie them emotionally to these structures."
Morrison said there has been talk of an upscale fundraiser at the Miners Camp restaurant, and she joked that might be her favorite idea so far.
"I just think it would be fun to show up in a ball gown on the gondola," she said. "Where else would you ever get to do that?"
Elliott said the committee is hoping to get off to a fast start once they officially launch in April and they are looking for people who want to get involved even before then. Both Morrison and Elliott said they are ecstatic after years of talking about preservation to finally be in a position to make a big impact.
"It’s historic," Elliott said. "I’ve been working on this for 30 years and this is the closest I’ve ever been. I am giddy."
For more information or to inquire about volunteering, contact Sally Elliott at 435-640-3759 or by email at SallyCousinsElliott@gmail.com.
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