A Wild West adventure for Tourism Cares

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Tourism Cares, a charitable organization involved in the preservation of historical and natural sites, is heading to the Wild West.

The organization will gather 300 volunteers from May 17 to 19 to help restore the mining boomtown of Virginia City, Nev.

"We're going to clean up the town that the Cartwrights couldn't," said Bruce Beckham, Tourism Care's executive director, referring to the family of ranchers on the TV show "Bonanza," which was set nearby.

Located 26 miles southeast of Reno, Virginia City sits on top of Comstock Lode, the largest silver deposit in North America.

During the gold rush days, before the mines were depleted near the end of the 1800s, the city was known as "the richest place in the world." It produced so much wealth from gold and silver mines that the federal government annexed the territory to help fund the Civil War.

It was a colorful city of saloons, bordellos, instant millionaires and for a while was the home of Samuel Clemens, who was the city editor of the Territorial Enterprise in the early 1860s. It was while he lived in Virginia City that Clemens first signed his name Mark Twain.

Once a thriving boomtown of 30,000 people, Virginia City now has a population of about 1,100 and doesn't have enough of a tax base to fund the necessary maintenance of its historical sites, which include Piper's Opera House, the Storey County Court House and the 1866 First Presbyterian Church.

"There's a lot of history there," said Beckham, "a boot hill-type cemetery, wooden sidewalks. The way we look at it, we're securing history."

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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