“Is anyone still mining in this area?” the man asked.

It was a question I got all the time during my stint as the coordinator at the Nederland Mining Museum.  Nederland, after all, was found on mining way back in the 1800s.

At the time, the person that came to mind was Tom Hendricks and the Cross Gold Mine, one of the longest continuously operating gold mines in the country.  I used to lead a van tour of mining sites around the Nederland area.  We drove all the way up the Caribou Road to the old Caribou Townsite.  I would always stop at the Cross Gold Mine, showing visitors that indeed, mining was still alive and well around Nederland.

I never met Tom in person, but heard about him from a lot of people in the area.  From what I could tell, he ran the mine not because he made money, but because he loved it.  He would give tours to people to help them understand Nederland’s rich mining heritage.  Everyone I knew who went on the tour came back with an appreciation of mining and of Tom — his gentle way with kids, his patience, his knowledge of mining.

It seemed like when Tom passed away last week, to signify the end of the Nederland mining era once and for all.  I don’t know if anyone else will take on the mine, but I doubt it.  Mining is and has been a grueling profession, and these days the payoff doesn’t usually merit the time and money involved.

A friend of mine who visited from Philadelphia recently asked me about what mining meant to Nederland.  It’s hard to capture the details of its story dating back to the 1870s when silver was discovered up in Caribou.  Gold mined in Eldora, and Tungsten mined in the early 1900s all sustained the hearty people who lived in these foothills.

The strange thing is even though mining eventually declined to almost nothing in the 1950s, the ties to mining still remain.  Without the mining booms, we wouldn’t have had the scenic byways that so many of us love to drive.  The Peak to Peak Highway, Boulder Canyon Road, Magnolia Road.

Miners built these roads to transport ore to mills that were eventually turned into silver and gold bars.  As mining declined, towns like Nederland turned to tourism and recreation.  Today, thousands of people ski at Eldora Mountain Resort each winter and thousands more recreate in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  And how do they get there?  Via Boulder Canyon.

It’s interesting that people flocked to the foothills to find fortune in mining.  Today, they flock to find fortunes of peace, quiet and the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

With the passing of Tom, our storied mining history finally comes to a close.  I, for one, appreciate how much attention he brought to our heritage that we must always remember.