The state needs hundreds of millions of dollars to seal roughly 50,000 hazardous, abandoned mines. At current funding levels, it will take another century.
Rob Ghiglieri pauses his walk across a dusty hillside on the outskirts of Virginia City to look at a tangled web of footprints weaving in circles around the ruins of the abandoned Forman Shaft. Once a massive, seven-story-tall structure, it boasted some of the deepest shafts in the West. Decades later, the shaft remained an accessible open pit plunging hundreds of feet into the ground.
The Forman Shaft has since been closed off — visitors can still drive to the site and wander around, but the entrance has been covered by a massive steel grate. Ghiglieri, administrator of the Nevada Division of Minerals, said he still worries when he sees so many footprints around old mine sites.
“Look at the amount of foot traffic,” he said. “There are people out here all the time.” Nevada is home to the most documented abandoned mines in the nation — nearly 200,000. They encompass everything from small, hand-dug holes miles from the nearest town to large-scale operations near dense population centers with shafts that plunge down hundreds of feet.
Mine reclamation in Nevada was not enforced until the 1980s, when state lawmakers created the Nevada Division of Minerals’ Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program to close off hazardous mines on public lands with no known owner.