History of Crested Butte
The Town of Crested Butte, fondly referred to as 'The Gateway to the Elk Mountains', sits at an elevation of 8,885 feet and is located 28 miles north of the City of Gunnison in the County of Gunnison. Crested Butte and the surrounding area was originally home to the Ute Indians. Placer miners were present in the area as early as the 1860’s. In 1873, geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden was on an expedition surveying the Elk Mountains. From the top of what is today known as Teocalli Mountain, Hayden referred to present day Crested Butte Mountain and Gothic Mountain as the "crested buttes", which became the Town's namesake. Howard F. Smith, the founding father of Crested Butte, laid out the Town by 1878. While Smith was originally attracted to the area because of the extensive coal deposits, which would eventually become the Town's economic base, Crested Butte initially made it's mark as a supply town for hard rock mining. Smith built a smelter and sawmill to service the mining camps located in the surrounding mountains.
In the 1860s and 1870s coal and silver mines began to open in the surrounding area, and many little mining towns formed. However, when silver mining began to decline, many of these towns failed. Crested Butte, however, was in a better position to survive because it served as a supply town to the surrounding area. Another industry that served to support Crested Butte was ranching.
When the coal mines closed, the town began to shrink, and eventually the local high school was closed. Students had to travel to Gunnison to go to high school. The town did not revive until a ski area was built on Crested Butte Mountain in the 1960s. In 1960, Dick Eflin and Fred Rice purchased what was known as the Malensek Ranch three miles northeast of town, and in the winter of 1962, their company, Crested Butte, Ltd opened a ski area. By the winter of 1962-63, they opened a ski area on Crested Butte Mountain with Colorado’s first gondola. This area grew into the present day resort Town of Mt. Crested Butte, home of Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
From the 1960s to 1990, the Crested Butte public school only facilitated K-5 students, while 6th grade and higher attended school in Gunnison. In 1990 Crested Butte offered middle school in the railroad depot building. In 1992 a new middle school was completed which allowed the public school to facilitate grades K through 8. Finally in 1997, a new facility for the Crested Butte Community School was completed. This included the addition of a public high school so that the school now serves students in grades K-12. In 1993 the Crested Butte Academy opened in Crested Butte, bringing a private high school into town. However, on 9 July 2008, the academy was closed permanently due to financial difficulties that had plagued its entire existence.
Since the 1970s, several companies have attempted to mine molybdenum on Mount Emmons (called the "Red Lady") near Crested Butte. In 1977 W Mitchell was elected mayor of Crested Butte and led a campaign which stopped AMAX (now Freeport-McMoRan) from building a billion-dollar molybdenum mine on Mount Emmons. Because of his battle against the anticipated environmental impact, Mitchell is known as the man who "saved a mountain". The same year, 1977, saw the formation of the High Country Citizens' Alliance (HCCA), an environmental organization dedicated to protecting natural resources within the Upper Gunnison River Valley.
Currently the rights for Mount Emmons molybdenum are owned by U.S. Energy Corp. On 25 April 2011, Thomson Creek Metals announced that it had terminated its option agreement with U.S. Energy Corp. to acquire an interest in the Mount Emmons molybdenum project. Although US Energy continued to maintain its commitment to moving the project forward on its own behalf, the withdrawal of Thomson Creek Metals was heralded as a major victory in the town of Crested Butte in its battle against the proposed molybdenum mine.
With the days of coal mining long since passed, Crested Butte and the surrounding area is now a year-round vacation destination. Know as “the wildflower capital of Colorado,” Crested Butte is not only a heritage tourism site, but a playground for people of all ages and interests, with endless opportunities ranging from snow sports to wildflower viewing, river running to rock climbing, hiking to biking, and festivals and events.