A Helping Hand in the West

Tourism Cares focuses its nonprofit efforts on Virginia City, Nev., with an eye toward revitalizing the town’s tourism sites

By: Lucia Chung

Tourism Cares recently had their fifth annual Tourism Cares for America restoration event in conjunction with the Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority, the Nevada commission on Tourism and 300 volunteers from the tourism industry from across the country. The task for this year was to put Virginia City, Nev., back on track to its former splendor.

A three-hour drive from Sacramento, Virginia City a mining city once known as the “richest place on earth” after the discovery of silver ore was Tourism Cares for America’s first foray into the Western U.S. and their biggest restoration project to date.

“With a population of 1,100, Virginia City just does not have the tax base to fund the necessary maintenance of its numerous historic sites,” said Bruce Beckham, executive director of Tourism Cares. “The area is a living symbol of American history, and the entire city is a Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is critical that we do our part to preserve it for the benefit of current and future generations.”

Usually, Tourism Cares for America focuses on one particular site, but because of Virginia City’s unique need, this is the first time the organization has restored multiple sites in one area. Volunteers worked on Piper’s Opera House, which was constructed in the 1880s and attracted performers like Harry Houdini, John Barrymore and Lillie Langtry; St. Mary’s Art Center, a former hospital; St. Mary’s in the Mountains, the most prominent structure to survive the great fire of 1875; Fourth Ward School and Cultural Center, which was built in 1876 and houses exhibits featuring the history and culture engendered by the discovery of the Comstock Lode; Silver Terrace Cemeteries, with its tombstones and mausoleums; the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, which takes tourists into the heart of the mining region; and Storey County, Virginia City’s downtown.

“When the volunteers roll up their sleeves and get to work in Virginia City, they will be experiencing first-hand the attractions that are so important to this Nevada destination and that we want them to help promote,” said Susan Sutton, executive director of the Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority. Tim Maland, director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism added, “Having Virginia City chosen for a historic restoration project of this magnitude is a great gift that will enhance the town and expose the entire region to travel professionals from across the country.”

The tourism community participants included tourism industry CEOs, transportation executives, hoteliers, tour operators, travel agents and presidents of convention and visitors bureaus, with the goal that the exposure will prompt tourists to return to Virginia City to continue the area’s restoration.

Tourism Cares for America’s past restoration projects include the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2006, George Washington’s Estate at Mount Vernon in 2005, the St. Louis Cemetery, New Orleans, in 2004 and the Ellis Island, New York/New Jersey, cleanup in 2003.