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Comstock Lode spat pits gold mining against tourism

September 1, 2011 | 10:56 am

Comstock Lode - outhouse race in Virginia City, Nevada
At the site of Nevada’s historic Comstock Lode, economic eras new and old have clashed in spectacular fashion.

With gold prices in the stratosphere, a company wants to resume mining for metals in the hills south of Reno, the Associated Press has reported. That's where the 1859 discovery of the Comstock cache helped fund Union efforts in the Civil War and the construction of San Francisco.

But in the decades since mining petered out, the former boomtown has remade itself as a historical tourism mecca, with faux harlots and gunslingers milling about the 1860s-era main drag. The town also puts on a bevy of oddball events -- including camel and outhouse races -- and boasts an unofficial mascot in a longjohn-wearing, scraggly-bearded “prospector” named StinkE. (He carries business cards, folks.)

In recent months, the tourism faction has turned on the mining one, saying the proposed open-pit excavation would sully the state and national historic district, the AP reported. The tourism backers were dealt a setback this week, however, when Nevada environmental regulators approved a key permit for Comstock Mining Inc. The company plans to begin operations this year.

RELATED:

An idle plant, an empty town

Virginia City: a lode of Comstock lore

Outhouses are No. 1 in Nevada town’s race

-- Ashley Powers in Las Vegas

twitter.com/ashleypowers

Photo: Teams sprint down the main drag of Virginia City, Nev., at the annual outhouse races. Credit: Scott Sady / for The Times

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