Steven Wright was born and raised in Colorado with roots deeply embedded in the rich history of the west.
My family history goes back to my Great Grandfathers who were miners and trappers in the late 1800s in Colorado. As a child my mother and her 3 siblings lived at mining camps in Uray, Silverton and Uravan Colorado for many years in the 1940s. My Great grandfather was present when Bob Ford was shot and killed by a friend for the murder of Jessie James. My other Great Grandfather received a dare from his friend Wyatt Earp, for a shot of whisky if he rode his horse up the stairs into the Stratter Hotel, Durango, Colorado.
Some of his earliest memories were playing along side his brother by the banks of the Arkansas River. He went through about 8 public schools before being fully employed at fourteen, and joining the Army at seventeen.He ran a successful business in Denver for ten years and was a construction supervisor with projects including, highways, hospitals, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science-Space Odyssey, and the University of Denver. Afterwards he was compelled to go to Iraq just months after his son enlisted in September of 2003. He was a Department of Defense Contractor for eight years until he returned home injured.
He had gained an interest in mining fifteen years ago, thanks to his son Michael. Although, when he bought the Vesuvius in October 2012, it wasn’t just about mining,
Vesuvius was to be a completion of history, not just a hobby, a reliving of past lives, a sit and laugh with Great Grandfathers and Grandfathers, a reliving history with my own Grandchildren and maybe an old age source of income off the family Property/Claim.
He was maintaining the mine even through his medical and financial struggles, and was at a point where he was able to beat these limitations and focus on the Vesuvius. This claim was his ultimate passion that gave him a new lease on life, until the Forest Service pulled the rug from under him.
September 28th – The Aftermath
It was a tragic afternoon, on September 28th, when Wright went to visit his claim, and found it had been completely dismantled. His cabin, signs, road barrier, adits, including a 19th adit cribbing, were all gone.
On or about the 27th Day of September 2016 After the USGS/USFS tore down the protective cable at the access road and tore down over 10 Federal Mining Claim signs and tore through the Property/Claim with a Track Excavator the USAG/USFS destroyed every adit (3), fantastic adit cribbing from the 1850s and demolished a historic cabin with ore chute outside of what was the Vesuvius 1 adit completely decimating the history, Property/Claim value, Property/Claim Owners love, diminishing interest, visions of tranquility and pursuit of happiness.
He found forest workers cleaning up, when he approached them. He was perplexed. All he could say was, “What have you done?” and “Why have you done this?”
He was angry, but he didn’t blame them, for he knew they were just following orders. He rushed to the Sheriff’s office, who was sympathetic, but there was nothing he could do.
Driving back to his claim, along with his sons, he found USFS ranger Olivia Garcia off the side of the freeway. He approached her, without leaving his car, and confronted her about the reclamation. At first she didn’t answer, but after threat of a lawsuit, she explained that she was just following orders from the Leadville Ranger station.
September 9th – The Walkthrough
The last time Wright met with Olivia Garcia, was alongside Geologist Amy Titterington and Ranger Michael Woodbridge of the USFS. On September 9th, he gave them a walkthrough on his property. Wright illustrated the implications of trying to open up his property to the public. He asked the forest rangers to imagine a family camping around the spot he was standing, that the kids were having fun, playing about, until they wandered ten paces to the edge of one of the mine’s shafts. Wright felt he knew better than anyone else that the property posed a safety hazard to the public, and that the property shouldn’t be haphazardly reclaimed by the Forest Service.
Wright wanted to take the safety precautions into his own hands.The USFS insisted the mine entrances be capped, and the road be opened to the public. This made Wright uneasy, because he knew his property like the back of his hand, and knew a mining property isn’t suitable for public access,
I proceeded to lead the USAG/USFS to the Vesuvius 2 Adit, Copper Mine, on a beautiful downward crest of a small ridge. I stopped and asked the USAG/USFS if they had any idea of what they were standing on. Property/Claim Owner has stopped the walkthrough 3 times now asking and questioning-unseen dangers that exists on Mining Property/Claims. Olivia Garcia asked “are we in danger” I said no more than the Public you direct onto the Mining Property/Claim. I told the USAG/USAG that they are again standing on a Thin Ceiling Adit that is extremely dangers and you direct the Public onto a Mining Property/Claim with ZERO regard for Safety and have stopped me from securing The Property/Claim for too long and I’m done with complying with incompetence.
He suggested the trail signs be moved further from his property, but the Forest Service cited the 1955 Mining Law, and claimed the rights to the surface. This also meant they had the right to demolish the cabin. Wright refuted this by saying the cabin was built on the tailings and the 1955 law only applies to properties claimed after 1955. They weren’t receptive, and by that time, they had already made up their minds.
All 3 of them were walking back and forth from their vehicles very suspiciously, one would ask a question about the Closures planned, another would walk up and say “so closures are approved”, I would say “there will be no Closures”, “No, No, No,” Property/Claim Owner even told the Trio “You are really good”.
September 19th & 21th – The Warnings that Never Came
Even though Mr. Wright has been in conflict with his USFS contact Amy Titterington since “day 1”, it wasn’t until last August he began receiving notices that the Forest Service was interested in reclaiming land where his property stood,
The Leadville Ranger District is asking for comments on a project proposal that implements safety closures on abandoned mine lands in the Parry Peak area near Leadville, Colorado and the Winfield area near Buena Vista, Colorado. The proposed safety closures would address “inactive” mine features such as open adits and shafts that pose the greatest physical hazard to forest visitors.
…despite the fact that Mr Wright had taken the time and effort to put safety precautions into his own hands.
This is from the notice that was dated September 19th, which he didn’t receive until days after the reclamation,
Since our site visit, you have requested that I not move forward with the construction of safety closures for the upper and lower adit because they may not accommodate your future plans for mining operations. In addition, you would like to personally construct the safety closures.
I am denying your request due to the absence of an approved Plan of Operations. I am moving forward with construction of safety closures by the Department of Corrections. With an approved Plan of Operations, we can discuss options to modify FS safety closures for future mine operations.
They kept pushing that Wright apply for a Plan of Operation. Wright felt that the original mining law of 1872 protected his rights as a miner, but the USFS kept insisting he apply for the POO. Wright claims he actually applied for one two years prior, but never heard back from them.
There’s a second notice dated September 21st, that outlines why they’re declining his surface rights,
As we discussed, the 1872 Mining Law, as amended, entitles claimants the right to possession of the claim for mining purposes only. The 1955 Multiple—Use Mining Act, provides that mining claims located subsequent to the act shall not be used, prior to patent, for purposes other than prospecting, mining, or processing and uses reasonably incident thereto. According to the BLM LR2000 records, the Vesuvius unpatented mining claim was filed in September 2012. This means your claim falls under the post—1955 regulations. Specifically, you have the right to occupancy and use necessary for prospecting, mining, and processing, but not the exclusive right to the surface.
Unfortunately, he never got these notices until it was too late. He was never able to respond to this decision, nor inquire why his original Plan of Operation application was never addressed.
Property/Claim Owner has never requested anything other than Safety and Access in order to proceed to Prospecting Permit and is still waiting for a response to a 2+ year submitted Plan of Operations.
September 29th – The Next Morning
That night, he and his sons decided to make camp there. The following morning, he detected the presence of people rushing to his mine, and motioned his sons to pack up and head home. The sheriff and enforcement officer approached Wright and hashed it out peacefully, but the sheriff had to assert that there was nothing he could do. He was forced to allow the USFS to finish the reclamation process, and if he tried to do anything about it, the sheriff would have been jailed.
He was more than soured by the whole situation, and the biggest insult to injury was to discover that his sons were followed and staked by enforcement officers outside their homes. He felt not only his rights as a miner, but an American, were being slowly diminished. It only took a matter of hours to turn Wright’s world upside down. The property he invested in for all these years dissolved into nothing.
Property/Claim Owner has done nothing but failed attempts to resolve road access and public safety issues with the USAG/USFS for years, to my own demise. The historic Vesuvius Mines will never again be seen by the public or anyone ever and all for the US Government can block road access, tear down fencing and call Property/Claim access road a USAG/USFS Trail, and unnecessarily and with malice and vengeful intentions destroy everything “Mining” rather than move a Trail sign (wired to a tree) 60 feet to the west. 60 feet and all conflicts could have been resolved.
Whether he’s going to move forward and pursue legal action is unclear, as he has become exhausted by the whole situation. Not unlike its namesake, the years of rumbling beneath the surface had finally erupted, leaving ruins of devastation.
Mining claim sign
Safety gate to deter public access
Cabin and Adit
Adit gated for safety
Torn down signs post-reclamation