The potential of injury and death for those exploring abandoned mine shafts is increasing in Piute County since the advent of the new 200-mile Piute All-Terrain Vehicle Trail, and it has Sheriff Brent Gottfredson concerned.
But communities in Sevier, Sanpete, Piute, Beaver and Millard counties will continue to promote the trail as an economy booster. It is increasing in popularity, and the larger cities have designated specific routes on their streets to accommodate riders.Still, the Piute county sheriff warns that tops of mine shafts throughout the county are not stable and timbers have, in many instances, been in place for more than 40 years.
The sheriff reported he recently found four juveniles who were one and one-half miles into a mine that they had broken into. They had only one flashlight, and the sheriff believes they were lucky to be alive to face charges of trespassing.
It seems that even fencing the old shafts doesn't keep people out. Hundred of abandoned mines in Piute County have become a magnet for thrill seekers.
"When piles of rocks are on the floors of mines, people should be smart enough to figure out that the tops aren't stable," Gottfredson warned. "You can walk in some mines 200 feet and be fine, but if you walk in 201 feet you can be dead." Gases that build up inside the mines are also deadly.
The sheriff noted that the mines are mazes of interconnecting tunnels and shafts where even the most experienced explorers can become confused and lost. "The worst thing about these casual explorers is that nobody knows they're there."
He presented a scenario of potential tragedy: "Someone riding the ATV Trail decides to stop and crawl in a mine. A ladder may break or the person falls into the shaft and gets hurt or dies. Who knows how long it's going to be before somebody realizes they're missing, let alone where they are."
Much of the mining in the county was for uranium, but there has been considerable exploration for silver and gold, particularly in the Tushar Mountains. Long-term dangers exist as well as the short-term ones.
Gottfredson said many of the uranium miners have died of cancer and not many are still living. "Needles on radon meters go right over the top when you take them into a lot of these mines."
There have not been reports of serious injuries or deaths in the mines in recent years, but the sheriff believes danger increases each day as mine timbers rot and nails rust and weaken while more people visit the mining areas.
Sparsely populated Piute County covers some 950 square miles of mostly remote and rugged mountain terrain. County law enforcement consists of only the sheriff and one deputy.
Gottfredson recognizes his awesome responsibility of protecting people and their property, although some residents and visitors to the county exhibit irresponsible behavior.
The sheriff's law enforcement responsibilities will expire Dec. 31, but his concern and worries about people getting hurt or killed in the multitude of mine shafts and diggings won't end.
Meanwhile, it was announced that Marysvale plans three major ATV activities in 1991 with full programs of related activities on Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day.
The town board has approved a family-oriented activity on Memorial Day weekend, according to Mayor Ron Bushman. Consumption of alcohol in any form is discouraged. "We want this to be for everyone in families. It will be a low-country ride in the foothills east of Marysvale."
The July 4 event will be a "high country" ride in the mountains west of the community. A breakfast will be served at the town park and a Dutch oven dinner will be scheduled, probably in one of the other Piute County communities.