Long before Vail and Beaver Creek became five-star destinations, Gilman was the valley’s economic engine. A 1950 issue of Rocky Mountain Empire Magazine lauded Gilman’s Eagle Mine as “one of the richest producers” of zinc and lead in the country. “The mineral city is air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted and fireproof. It has its own water system, elevator and 100 miles of steel track,” the periodical gushed about the company town. “It’s as modern as the mine itself, with clean-looking white administrative offices, hospital, school, homes and recreational buildings.”
That was before the mine reached the end of its ore reserves and started hemorrhaging jobs, money, and eventually toxic waste. When the mine was abandoned in 1984 and allowed to flood, the runoff frequently turned a section of the Eagle River that runs through Minturn a murky shade of orange, leading the EPA to designate the town of Gilman and its mine a Superfund site before ordering all remaining residents—at that point, most had already left—out. Eagle County authorities chained off the road leading to Gilman, and a decades-long effort began to clean up the site. Currently, the Eagle Water Treatment Plant near Maloit Park in Minturn filters out heavy metals that still seep from the mine at Gilman at a cost of $1 million per year (CBS Operations, the site’s current owner, pays the bill). And despite some interest from developers over the years, Gilman’s toxic status has rendered it nothing more than a dilapidated stretch of graffiti-covered buildings hugging the ridge on Highway 24. There’s a pullout off Highway 24 2.3 miles from Tigiwon Road where you can stop and snap a selfie. If you’re tempted to duck the gates, wander through town, and maybe add your tag to the place, don’t. It’s criminal trespassing to enter—and strictly enforced.