By Mike Rosso
The Leadville Mineral Belt Trail (MBT) is a great example of a positive outcome from an EPA Superfund Site. The scenic, paved 11.6-mile loop trail winds safely through the city and the surrounding historic mining district.
It was conceived of in 1994, a result of a community effort to help identify natural and historic resources within the Leadville Mining District as a result of the cleanup of the California Gulch Superfund Site. The site was listed as a priority in 1983 and underwent years of mitigation to the soil, surface and groundwater, liquid and solid waste and sludge, as a result of mining, mineral processing, and smelting in and around Leadville which produced gold, silver, lead, copper, manganese and zinc for more than 130 years.
A community poll found overwhelming support for a multi-use, non-motorized trail to preserve the mining heritage of the area and to provide recreational benefits for locals and tourists alike. Construction began on the trail in 1995 and it was officially opened to the public on July 29, 2000.
The trail offers a 12-foot wide, paved and striped surface with adjacent three-foot wide soft surface recovery zones. The average grade is three percent with maximum sustained grades of five percent and is ADA accessible for its entire length with over 750 feet of elevation gain over the loop.
It integrates parts of the grades of the three major rail lines that served the district at the turn of the 19th century. The trail passes tailings and slag heaps, mine shafts and the remains of old mines structures on the outskirts of town, as well as through aspen groves, sage meadows and conifer forests. The five-plus miles within the city connects Colorado Mountain College, the public library, several museums and churches, the hospital and several recreation areas.
The trail is designed for bicycles, walkers, wheelchairs, strollers, in-line skaters and long-boarders. Wintertime enthusiasts will find the trail snowcat-groomed, affording freestyle and classic Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and winter biking. There are four shelters located along the train for refuge and interpretive signs along the way providing history of the city and the mining district. The trail is groomed for skiers several times a week by volunteers. Dogs are allowed but only on leashes. The Leadville Loppet Nordic ski race is an annual fundraising event for the MBT and is usually held in mid-February. The MBT has been nominated, at the request of the State of Colorado, for National Recreational Trail status.
Donation tubes for maintenance and improvements are provided at kiosks along the trail or they can be mailed to: Mineral Belt Trail, P.O. Box 666, Leadville, CO 80461.
For more information, visit www.mineralbelttrail.com
GETTING THERE: There are multiple access points for the trail in and around Leadville. The trail begins and ends at Dutch Henry Hill, off Colo. Hwy. 24, near the Colorado Mountain College Timberline Campus. There are also access points and parking areas up East 5th and 7th Streets; in town on West 6th Street, near the hospital and at Ice Palace Park on West 10th Street. A map can be found at the MBT website.