The Mineral Belt Trail was conceived in 1994, through a community effort to identify methods of mitigating impacts to natural and historic resources within the historic Leadville Mining District resulting from the cleanup of the California Gulch Superfund Site. A poll of the community clearly prioritized the creation of a multi-use, non-motorized trail as a means of showcasing and preserving the unique mining heritage of the district, while providing a lasting recreational and utilitarian benefit to the community and its visitors.
From its onset, the design process sought to create partnerships with stakeholders, City and County authorities, landowners, local civic and historic organizations, and State and Federal agencies. Anchored by Lake County, ASARCO Mining Company, the Leadville Coalition, the City of Leadville, and Colorado Mountain College, the partnership eventually grew to include: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Lake County School District; Greater Leadville Area Chamber of Commerce; Leadville Sanitation District; Newmont Mining Company; Lake County Tourism Task Force; Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology; Union Pacific Railroad; Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad; Colorado Department of Local Affairs; U.S. Forest Service; Lake County Assessors Office; Conlin Associates Resource Planners; Lake County Recreational Board; Colorado Department of Transportation; Buena Vista Correctional Facility; T&C Services; the Leadville Rental Company; and numerous private landowners.
Initial community scoping meetings held by Conlin Associates, the consulting firm contracted to initiate the planning process, to determine design parameters for the trail sent the unmistakable message that the trail should be designed and built to the highest quality standards to match the unparalleled beauty and historic significance of the area in which the trail would be built. Tantamount to the trail's layout would be the creation of a direct and tangible linkage of the historic landscapes, buildings, structures, artifacts, and sites that distinguished Leadville as Colorado's premier mining camp.
The Mineral Belt Trail was designed and laid out to capitalize on the full range of historic and cultural resources in Leadville and the adjacent mining district. It provides legal access through some of the community's most significant historic and cultural resources, from evidence of early day exploration, to the transportation systems that were built to service the active mines, the community that sprang up to meet the needs of the residents, and the smelting industry that processed the ores. It also provides the opportunity to demonstrate and interpret the full circle of mining, from early discoveries and boom and bust periods, through the current Superfund cleanup.
The trail integrates portions of the grades of the three major rail lines that served the Leadville Mining District around the turn of the century. Its alignment parallels California Gulch, site of Leadville's first gold strike and earliest settlement, and cuts through the heart of the mineral belt that earned Leadville the moniker of "Colorado's Silver City". As it traverses Fryer, Fairview, Carbonate, Iron and Rock Hills, the Trail instills in the traveler the sense of the pioneering spirit of the rugged men and women who endured the unbelievable hardships of the harsh alpine environment to scrape and gouge a living from the unforgiving mountain-sides, and carve the City of Leadville from the inhospitable landscape above 10,000 feet.
Along the way, the Trail helps to chronicle the rags to riches stories of such notable figures from Colorado's history as Horace and Baby Doe Tabor, Meyer Guggenheim, Charles Boettcher, David May, Father John Dyer, (Colorado's "Snowshoe Itinerant",) and the "Unsinkable Molly Brown". It also helps tell the story of the building of the "Cloud City", whose ornate Victorian architecture once housed the entrepreneurs, gamblers, miners, outlaws, and "ladies of the evening" of Colorado lore.
The trail was also designed to serve a utilitarian function by connecting vital segments of the community, including all three public schools, Colorado Mountain College, the Lake County Public Library, the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, the Healy House and Dexter Cabin historic sites, the Heritage Museum, and Leadville's Medical Center and Hospital, as well as numerous churches and recreation areas. The trail also provides a pedestrian gateway to the 70 square block Leadville National Historic Landmark District and the famed Leadville Mining District. In spite of the rugged terrain through which it passes, and over 750 feet of elevation gain over its 11.6-mile loop, the trail was laid out to be ADA accessible over its entire length.
The trail was designed and built to provide a 12-foot wide paved surface with adjacent 3-foot wide soft surface recovery zones, and includes two grade separated bridges crossing county roads. It has an average grade of 3%, with maximum sustained grades of 5%, and forms a 18.56 km (11.6 mile) loop around the City of Leadville. Directional and regulatory signage was installed in compliance with AASHTO and MUTCD standards, and the trail was striped to establish travel lanes. Curve radii were engineered to a design speed of 20 mph, with cross slope drainage of 2 to 5% established along its alignment. Construction commenced in the spring of 1995, and the trail was officially opened to the public on July 29th of 2000.
The Mineral Belt Trail has been listed as one of Colorado's "Top 10" mountain trails in a Denver Post survey, and has been nominated, at the request of the State of Colorado, for National Recreational Trail status. Future plans call for the request for Congressional designation as a National Historic Trail.