If you explore the Park City area, I guarantee that you will bear witness to at least one of the historic mining structures scattered all around. Before Park City transformed into the posh resort destination as we know it today, it was a mining powerhouse. A hotbed for silver and many other valuable ores, the mines around Park City quickly became some of the top exporters in the nation.
Nowadays, most of these mining structures are vacant and unused, and in most cases have just become part of the beautiful mountain scenery. Some have been made into monuments with historical plaques by the Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History, marking the locations and informing passersby. A select few of these structures, however, are still utilized today, but not for what you might expect. One prominent mining shaft location became an educational museum experience, while many others serve as points of access for monitoring the local water supply.
After World War II, the profitability of mining took a hit. Depressed metal prices threw the market into an abyss and caused the closure of mines around the country. This was the beginning of the end for the mining industry in Park City. While searching for treasure underground may have been a lost hope, the residents and miners of Park City realized the fortune staring them in the face above the ground. Prompted by this revitalizing new discovery, the United Park City Mines immediately conducted studies on the feasibility of Park City as a location for skiing. The rest is history.
Despite all the mines closing by 1982, many of the drain tunnels connected with mine shafts have been kept up. Why? Because in these tunnels there is still a healthy and strong water flow which has been bought by the local government for local taps. The access provided to the water table by the tunnels is vital for the constant upkeep and maintenance of the local water supply. But the shafts and tunnels have seen other activity, too.
One of the most prominent of mine shafts in the Park City area is the Ontario Shaft No. 3. Located west of and adjacent to Guardsman Pass, the shaft sits in the middle of the Ontario canyon. This is the longest-lasting mine shaft of Park City in terms of years in operation. Opened for business in 1872, the mine was continuously utilized up until 1982. This, however, would not be the last time the mine was visited. It was almost immediately converted into an educational museum and tourist attraction after its initial closure.
Better known as the “Silver Mine Adventure,” this historic mine shaft housed one of Park City’s hottest tourist attractions off the slopes in the mid-to-late 1990s. This experience allowed its visitors to be immersed into the daily lives of miners who were once in the same tunnels. The No. 3 shaft strictly acted as an elevator for lowering people into the museum as well as lifting them out when their visit was finished. The Park City Silver Mine Adventure, however, was short-lived and operated from December of 1995 through circa 1999.
Learn more about mining history and projects to preserve Park City’s mining structures by visiting the Park City Museum or its Hal Compton Research Library, and through the Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History. And don’t miss a virtual Museum lecture about how mine shafts were sunk and constructed on Wednesday, April 7 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., given by University of Utah mining engineering professor, Dr. Mike Nelson. Register here.