Walking tour will shine light on Oak Creek’s mining history

The Oak Creek Library will host a walking tour with historian Paul Bonnifield on Saturday, June 11, 2022.
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This Saturday, June 11, the Friends of the Library will host Routt County historian and author Paul Bonnifield to share his knowledge of Oak Creek’s rich mining heritage as part of the library’s programming.

Bonnifield said the event is a chance to point out the history of landmarks people drive by every day with no idea of ​​what they are seeing or the role the landmark played in Routt County history.

The walking tour will begin at 9 am at the Oak Creek Library at 17 Main St. downtown. Those taking part will then drive to Colorado Highway 131 and Routt County Road 27 before hiking to the location where the Moffat Company mine was. Bonnifield said he has gotten permission from the town of Oak Creek, just this one time, to make the short walk to where the mine was located.



“We will meet at the library and have a brief talk,” Bonnifield said. “Then we will get down and start the hike. We will talk about the history and everything else as we go along rather than trying to stand in one place and tell the story — then go down there and see what you already heard about.”

“I was talking to some people just the other day, and they didn’t know where the Moffat Mine was or anything about it despite going by it every day, or every other day as they go to Steamboat,” Bonnifield added. “So, for the people who take the tour and go out and actually see the place they drive by, it will be quite an experience for them.”



Attendees will also have a chance to learn about other mines in Oak Creek from Bonnifield who wrote the book “Coal: The Cream of Northwestern Colorado,” alongside his wife Ellen Bonnifield.

“He actually wrote a book about coal mining in South Routt,” said Janet Panabaker, a member of the South Routt Library District board who is excited to have him talk. “Not only are we having our first history program … but’s it’s a local author.”

Panabaker said the ideas behind the free library programs often come from her interaction with the community.

“Most of the time these programs start as a conversation I’m having with someone,” Panabaker said. “And I think, I would like to go to a program about that, and then we try to set it up.”

Matthew Rochon of Routt County Riders helps work on bikes during last month’s program at the Oak Creek Library.
Courtesy photo

The Oak Creek Library normally hosts one program every month, and most of the time it’s in the first couple of weeks on the month. Last month, the event covered bicycle tune-ups, and in July, Opera Steamboat will host a program.

Panabaker said this month’s event on mining will be the first history-based subject since the program series began a year ago.

“We’re all a product of our past,” Bonnifield said. “When we lose contact with our past we lose contact with who we are — we are just simply out there in the middle of nowhere … When we know from whence we came, then we have an idea of ​​where we are going.”

Bonnifield is hoping Saturday’s walking tour will inform people about the places that have a place in Routt County’s history, and will also those that come to the tour a little about there own role in shaping the future.

“If we know this place we’re going to understand it all better, and it’s going to make a little more sense to us,” Bonnifield said. “History is not just a story — it’s a piece of who we are.”

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