U.S. grants fill tourism gaps for rural counties
A federal program designed to wean communities from reliance on the timber industry provides a boost to small-town tourism across rural Nevada.
The national forests in the state never have produced much commercial timber.
Unlike towns in timber-rich districts that now face cutbacks in cutting on national forests, the Nevada communities that participate in the grants program aren’t using the money to rebuild their economies.
Rather, they’re getting help on a multitude of small projects that otherwise would remain undone, such as:
* A $10,000 gateway for visitors to Lovelock.
* A $15,000 plan for a Sierra Front trails network running from Washoe County to Alpine County in California.
* A $26,000 boardwalk and trails system in Wells.
* A $7,165 project to repair three billboards advertising the attractions of Austin.
The grants are available to communities smaller than 10,000 people including tribes located within 100 miles of a national forest in Nevada.
Nearly every spot in the state is within 100 miles of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which sprawls across more than 6 million acres stretching from the California border to the mountains east of Ely.
While the grants can be used for many types of economic diversification efforts, rural Nevada communities have latched onto them as way to burnish their image to visitors.
Tom Baker, an executive who oversees grants programs for the Humboldt- Toiyabe National Forest, said the grants to rural communities often fill a gap that otherwise can’t be financed.
Big projects a new sewer system, for instance generally are eligible for grant funds.
Small projects, those amounting to a couple of hundred dollars, can be financed through community fundraisers.
The medium-sized projects funded by the Forest Service often act as a catalyst for larger programs.
Ely, for instance, will use a $10,000 grant to begin planning a railroad museum.
“It’s a way of kick-starting things,” Baker said.
“What we’re really good at is planting seeds.”
Rural communities in Nevada this year received about $100,000 through the grants program, coming up with at least 25 percent of each project’s cost on their own.
About 35 communities, tribes and nonprofit organizations filed applications for grants last autumn, and Baker said the number of requests is growing.
“Last year, we went out and promoted the heck out of them,” he said.
There’s no shortage of needs for tourism development in rural areas, said Chris Chrystal, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Commission on Tourism.
And many of those needs are small even so small as some cash for a banner to hang over a main street to attract travelers.
“A relatively modest amount of money can go a long way in rural Nevada,” she said.
Concerned that a spate of COVID-19-related lawsuits could bankrupt businesses, members of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce implored the state’s congressional delegation during the chamber’s annual D.C. retreat to pass a federal liability protection measure.