Named one of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places 2020
By Gail Watson
On Thursday, January 31st, Colorado Preservation, Inc. announced the selection of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places for 2020. The East Portal Camp cabins in Gilpin County west of Rollinsville on Tolland Road were selected as one of four winners to receive this important designation. The five remaining cabins are the last remnants of the “company town” called East Portal that was built in 1922-23 to house the workers and their families building the Moffat Tunnel, an engineering marvel that bored underneath the Continental Divide. This designation will help us share the significance of this area and save what’s left of the town which at one point had a school, a recreation center, and a small hospital. The history that is being slowly destroyed through “demolition by neglect,” weather, and vandalism, is important not only to our county and state, but to the entire country. As one of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places we will have access to preservation funding to help save what we can of these cabins.
In 2002 the James Peak Wilderness was created and the trail head is just north of the Moffat Tunnel, close to the cabins. There is a unique combination of recreation and history here and as you hike up to the alpine lakes, you quickly leave behind the noise of the tunnel exhaust fans and experience Colorado’s high-country much as it was when Gilpin County was established in 1861. Today the area has increased visitation and our vision is that once restored, these cabins could be used by non-profit groups with an interest in hiking, railroads, fishing, birding, trail management, and winter sports. Efforts to save this site have taken many years and would not have happened without the work of the Gilpin County Historical Advisory Commission with special thanks to Deon Wolfenbarger, Bret Johnson, B. Travis Wright, Tami Archer, Ray Rears, Sue Struthers and the late Linda Jones.
Gilpin County is so rich in historical sites, but we are a small county with limited resources. The county is working to preserve historic structures as we are able, and are proud to also announce that we have assigned $70,000 in funding from the Open Space, Wildlife & Historic Preservation Fund to begin preservation of the 1896 Thorn Lake School, the only surviving one-room school house in Gilpin County which after various uses, was moved to county property on Tolland Road by Dan Martin and Mark Slinger.
The Board of County Commissioners is committed to historic preservation and we are very grateful for the work of staff and volunteers who make saving our rich heritage a reality.