Breckenridge’s historic Country Boy Mine has new owners and big plans for the future
Taking a tour of the Country Boy Mine in Breckenridge means donning a hardhat, getting dripped on and embarking on a cultural experience made possible by rich local history and a few modern comforts.
The old mine at 542 French Gulch Road had been up for sale for some time before a group of investors led by Mike Shipley purchased the property for $2 million in late February, according to local property records.
The mine that once pulled gold, silver, zinc and lead from a 20-acre plot only minutes outside of downtown Breckenridge stands as a monument to the town’s past. Mining, and not skiing, is what made Breckenridge famous. “That’s the thing about the Country Boy,” said Paul Hintgen, who recently returned to work there as the general manager. “It’s the reason Breckenridge is on the map — because of these mines, because of gold.”
Gold was discovered in Colorado in January 1859 in Idaho Springs. The man who found it, Hintgen said, found quite a bit, was pretty proud of himself for it and couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
With that, “the Gold Rush of 1859 was on,” Hintgen continued. “And within that summer, there were 50,000 miners all the way from Idaho Springs, over the pass, all the way into Blue River and Breckenridge.”
Having managed the Country Boy Mine a decade ago, Hintgen knows the property, its history and the layout of the mine well. He was working out of another mine in Georgetown when the Country Boy Mine sold and the new owners recruited him to come back as the manager.
During a Wednesday tour he also revealed the new owners are planning a series of enhancements — such as year-round operations, building work, increased community connections and even some mine work — as they continue operating the property as a local attraction.
“I can’t tell you about all the plans that are going to happen,” he said.
However, Hintgen did say the changes involve being more community-centered, including taking advantage of the trails on the property to be a part of the 2019 Gold Run Rush mountain bike race set for June 19.
“It’s a big party,” Hintgen said of the race. “We’ll have a big bonfire, the tents up and it will be catered. The race will finish here, and the kids will get to roast marshmallows. We’ll have two miniature burros wandering around. There’s a lot going on here.”
That might be an understatement.
In the coming weeks, a group of miners will come into Country Boy to replace some of the timbers with steel supports so it won’t have to be continually retimbered like it was back in the day. Other projects include pursuing year-round operations and stabilizing an old mill that resides on the land.
More than a half-dozen old buildings remain on the property. A compressor house holds the gift shop, old mining artifacts, a few hands-on exhibits and, of course, the old air compressor — an essential piece of any mining operation.
The machinery not only pumped fresh air into the mine but powered the air drills, and at least one of those drills, known as “widowmakers,” remains on-site and is still working today.
Not far from the compressor house rests the old mill that’s going to be stabilized this summer and a log cabin where the blacksmith’s shop used to sit. There are a handful of other historic, old-timey structures, a covered space for outdoor events and an old ore chute that’s been turned into a 55-foot slide, in addition to other mining artifacts.
Even with all the ancillary programs, the tunnel that cuts 1,100 feet into the side of the mountain remains the main attraction. Inside, the mine is lighted, and what amounts to a small creek has been covered with boards so people don’t have to get their feet wet, like the men who used to work the mine once did. As one might expect, mines can produce a lot of condensation inside and that water has to go somewhere.
The lead and zinc pulled from the Country Boy Mine were important pieces to the war effort during World War II, and the mine was in production on and off until after the war, Hintgen said. It reopened as a tourist attraction in 1994, and Hintgen recalled there were about eight collapses that had to be cleared before that could happen. He also said that is one reason people should avoid going into abandoned mines and stick to tours like his.
In the summers, hundreds of people pan three ponds on the property for gold, but the panning was shut down in the winters due to the cold. The act is now being recreated where the original blacksmith’s shop once was inside the log cabin so that panning can continue as a year-round activity, like the tours.
One family from Michigan that toured the mine on Wednesday seemed to greatly appreciate that addition, too.
“Found another piece of pyrite,” shouted 10-year-old Emersen Roodvoets as she panned a couple tubs with her brother and parents inside the heated cabin.
“And another,” she quickly added.
Hintgen said that people can spend hours gold panning at the mine, and most find hidden treasures along the way, either in their pans or through lessons learned about Breckenridge history.
“You’re going to come to Breckenridge and hear a lot about the Country Boy, even the locals,” Hintgen promised of the coming changes.
This story was originally published Aug. 4, 2019. It ran in the 2019 Explore Summit summer magazine.
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