Standing here at the Climax molybdenum Mine at over 11,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies, it's easy to get a feel just how big this mining operation once was here and the sheer enormity of the mining operation is evident even now in winter with several feet of snow piled up around me and piled up all over the pit itself. It's at least a mile across and it goes several hundred feet below where I'm standing. There's not much going on right now, there's a little bit of environmental clean up going on and the occasional driver will come by and take a look at the mine itself but that is soon going to change. Just downhill from the mine lies the town of Leadville, population 3,000. a huge hand-painted sign at its entrance reads ï¿½We Heart Leadville, Great Living at 10,200 feet.ï¿½ Grand old buildings that hint of more prosperous times line the town's main drag, Harrison Avenue. Mining was this proud community's lifeline for a century until the price of molybdenum went south in the 1980s. 3,000 people lost their jobs and overnight, Leadville had the highest unemployment rate in the US. ï¿½It was devastating, these were big men, men who'd spent their whole life up there busting rock,ï¿½ this man remembers the day the mine closed like it was yesterday, ï¿½Those kind of men are tall and tempered and to see those types of men coming out of that mine, having to go home and tell their family, tell the wife, tell the kids that daddy didn't have a job, it was devastating.ï¿½ A gruff looking but friendly man, he worked for 10 years as a crew boss at Climax. Unlike most of the men, he stuck around, he went on to become a state legislator, mainly to inform policy makers about Leadville's plight. He says, ï¿½Downtown Leadville, Harrison Avenue is subject to the international market. Whatever happens on that international market with respect to molybdenum, the production in China or anywhere in the globe affects Leadville, Colorado, affects that Leadville miner.ï¿½ Now that market is swinging in Leadville's favor. A US-based mining giant plans to rebuild the Climax mine next year and plans to resume mining operations in 2010, and that's cause for celebration here. The Golden Bureau Cafe has survived most of Leadville's booms and busts, locals have sipped coffee and swapped stories here since the 1930s. today it's one of the best places in town to spot former miners. ï¿½My work number was 16257, that's something you'll never forget once you've got it,ï¿½ this woman is behind the lunch counter. She was one of the first women to work underground at Climax. Her face lights up when talk turns to the mine's reopening, ï¿½I would never be able to work there again, I can't physical and I'm too old, but for everybody else, for our own economy, for sure, I think it's a great deal.ï¿½ That's what people are saying all over town. In her office across the street from The Golden Bureau, this woman edits the weekly Leadville Herald Democrat. She says it's hard to find anyone here who opposes the mine even though the new high tech operation won't need many miners, ï¿½This is not the saving of Leadville, we've saved ourselves over the years and so the mine is not coming back with 3,000 miners, it's coming back with 300-350 miners. So it's not going be the kind of resource for the community that it was before but it's going to be great, good paying jobs.ï¿½ The former miner finds it funny that Leadville may have China to thank for those jobs. Today China needs so much molybdenum that it's no longer exporting it. that's driving up prices and making it feasible for the Climax Mine to reopen. He remembers when the Chinese came here in the 70s to learn from the best in the business, ï¿½So in fact we were just shooting ourselves in the foot, because they went back to China and started mining molybdenum and they could do it cheaper than we could. So it cost us back then. Rumor is now because China is becoming such an incredible economy that they're using more molybdenum now, so the US is selling molybdenum back that direction now. so hopefully that'll be a plus for us now.ï¿½ but global markets are shifty, that's why town leaders say Leadville is trying to remake itself as a tourist destination.
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