Historic Reiling Dredge no longer listed as an endangered site
Colorado Preservation Inc. marks mining equipment as ‘saved’
Years of hard work has paid off for the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. Because of the nonprofit’s efforts, the historic Reiling Dredge in Breckenridge is no longer considered an endangered site.
Earlier this month, Colorado Preservation Inc. marked the mining equipment as “saved” at its annual Saving Places Conference in Denver Feb. 8. Another historic item that received that designation was the Denver Tramway Co.’s No. 04 streetcar. According to the organization, the program has highlighted 130 historic sites in 24 years throughout the state. Of those, 54 sites have been saved and only seven have been lost, with 49 actively in progress and 20 still under alert status.
The dredge, located in French Gulch, was listed as endangered in 2015. Breckenridge Heritage Alliance Executive Director Larissa O’Neil said the listing helped the nonprofit work with the advocacy group and other agencies to get funding necessary to preserve the site before it was lost for good.
“It’s such a unique site,” O’Neil said. “We’re talking about a partially submerged vessel. We literally have a boat at 10,000 feet that’s sitting in a pond that’s been sitting there for a hundred years, and it’s just so abnormal to this area.”
O’Neil said it cost about $350,000 total to restore, with the State Historical Fund, town of Breckenridge and Summit County government being the top three contributors. According to Colorado Preservation Inc., the Reiling Dredge is now considered to be one of the most intact dredges in the United States.
The bulk of the restoration work was done in 2018 and 2019. It wasn’t officially designated as saved until this year because final checks, site visits and conversations with Colorado Preservation Inc. and other items were put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Restoring the site wasn’t a straightforward task. Multiple studies were done over the years to assess how fragile the structure was, and O’Neil said maybe 12 years ago they had scuba divers in the pond studying the structural integrity of the hull of the boat. At one point, the pond water had to be lowered by 3 feet with a siphon system so progress could continue, and a helicopter was used in order to get materials for stabilization to the site.
“We’re dealing with these giant beams, and the only way to get them there in a way that was sustainable for all of the trails and the ecosystem in that area was to bring them in via helicopter,” O’Neil said. “… All of those things combined made it a really unique project to try and accomplish. It was a pretty complex project.”
While no longer endangered, O’Neil said there will be ongoing maintenance with the dredge just like all the sites they preserve. The heritage alliance also plans to possibly install more interpretive signs to tell the story of the gold mining operation. O’Neil said the dredges are an uglier part of Breckenridge’s history, but added that it’s worth acknowledging and studying so similar operations don’t happen again.
“The dredges were so environmentally destructive, they literally turned rivers upside down,” O’Neil said.
According to the heritage alliance, the dredge is named after Herman J. Reiling, an engineer from Chicago. Construction of the mining boat started in 1908 and it began operating in 1909 on French Creek. Each of the dredge’s 86 buckets could scoop 5 cubic yards of gravel from the streambed. The gravel then flowed through separation screens, mercury-lined sluices and other equipment to recover gold.
The dredge recovered $45,000 in gold in the month of June 1909, and the haul was $220,000 for the first season. Eventually, the dredge became less profitable. It sat idle in 1921 and in 1992 a new company bought the assets in an attempt to restart operations, but the dredge unexpectedly sank in its self-made pond that November. The Reiling Dredge still sits there today.
The heritage alliance doesn’t have any other sites listed as endangered, but O’Neil said they keep an internal list of various projects to touch up. Next is the Sallie Barber Mine, at risk of collapse, and the nonprofit hopes to stabilize the headframe that stood above the mine and ore bin that sorted materials this summer.
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