On Wednesday October 11, 2023 Keith Droste joined his fellow hard-rock brethren in the “great beyond.” No doubt his beloved “wonder dog” Alta was the first to greet him. For those who knew Keith, our sorrows regarding his passing are profound. By all measures Keith was an extraordinary person – his generosity, intellect, and physical stamina.
Keith’s relationship with Park City and the surrounding communities exceeded twenty years, though not consecutively. His first visit to the area occurred in 1959. He was twenty-six years old. At the time, Keith worked for Hecla, a mining conglomerate known for a culture that promoted innovation, collaboration, and employee self-actualization. Keith thrived in such an environment. His assignment was to perform due diligence regarding a potential joint venture between New Park Mining and Hecla.
New Park, chartered in 1932, listed the Mayflower Mine as their principal asset. Persistently undercapitalized, New Park struggled to realize the property’s full potential. For New Park, access to Hecla’s financial and engineering expertise could be a game changer.
When possible, Keith explored the surrounding communities. Midway’s numerous calderas intrigued him. No question the underlying hydrogeological system featured heat. Did the Mayflower mine share geothermal linkages with Midway? Considering the mine’s location, it seemed likely. Why was this important? As a result of his education (B.S. Geology) and experience (Hecla’s fast-track career development program) Keith knew that gold deposits were typically found in igneous and sedimentary rock formations with active geothermal systems. Keith’s intuition combined with a thorough analysis of all variables associated with the potential joint venture culminated in his recommendation to consummate the agreement. Hecla agreed.
Keith returned to the Mayflower in 1962 as the mine’s Superintendent – a remarkable achievement for a thirty-year-old. Under Keith’s management the Mayflower achieved its full potential. By 1966 it was the sixth largest gold producing mine in the U.S.: Another notch in the growing legend of Keith Droste. Under the privileges of professional courtesy, Keith explored the neighboring United Park City Mines Company (UPCM) operation. He left the Mayflower in 1966, as another assignment beckoned. The mine closed in 1972 – a victim of forces beyond the joint venture’s control. The same fate awaited UPCM.
With his reputation firmly established, the demand for Keith’s expertise provided an opportunity to travel the world in pursuit of his profession. Each assignment enhanced both his knowledge and aura.
Keith returned to Park City in the 1990s. It was during this time we met. I could never thank Keith enough for his patience tolerating my unending questions regarding Park City’s mining history and his career. To know him was an honor. For a glimpse into the realities of subterranean employment please read “Cage Call” by Louie Palu and Charlie Angus. It’s not for the faint of heart. Thank you Keith for the book. I will close this tribute with a quote from Jim Hewitson, a fourth-generation miner who knew well both Keith and the mines of Park City; “I was saddened to hear of Keith Droste’s passing. He was one of the last living experts on the mines and mining in the Park City District. He will be greatly missed”.
The author thanks Winona Dale Barcon (Keith’s wife), Jim Hewitson, and, of course, Keith Droste for their contributions to this article.