B. Borden, J. Lednicky, L. Thomas, J. C. Cervantes 2020, Nevada Economic Assessment Project Socioeconomic Baseline Report for White Pine County, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno

Purpose

The purpose of this report is to provide and use data to showcase socioeconomic and other trends in a county in Nevada. This will give local decision makers—elected officials, educators, nonprofits—the ability to better understand their constituents’ needs.

Counties statewide and nationwide are constantly challenged to make decisions revolving around economic, demographic, and land issues. This crafted report is a tool to respond to those issues with quantitative backings that can help make a case for any decision big or small. These backings are rightfully called a “county baseline,” wherein data that covers all social, demographic, economic, and land measures is delivered in a kindly and easy-to-browse manner. This allows counties to utilize the report as they see fit, and best respond to any current issue with quantitative data.

In short, this report helps counties and communities better understand what makes up their counties and communities. Varying factors in an economic climate, like businesses opening and closing; population increasing or decreasing; and average household size growing and shrinking, all of these factors put pressure on government and businesses themselves to make decisions and react to change. Any possible measure or statistic that may go towards helping make a better decision is included in this report.

It is also important to note that this report is not a one-time attempt at trying to make a one-time change. This report represents a commitment to communities, to counties, to the state, and beyond. Being a data repository of key measures, meaningful for communities, counties, and officials, its purpose is to reach out and help fill those gaps in decision-making, so that everyone may benefit.

Report Layout

Data was gathered from a variety of sources and compiled into a report broken down into easy-to-digest sections.
The report is broken down into six main sections:

  • Demographic Characteristics covers general population demographics, such as population, age, and race
  • Social Characteristics delves into poverty, education, school districts, and other aspects that impact the overall well-being of a community
  • Economic Characteristics examines industry trends, including jobs, average annual earnings, and personal income breakdowns. This section also looks at the Gross Regional Product for the county and its industries, as well as Per Capita Income and how that compares to the statewide level
  • NAICS Sectors takes an in-depth look at how industry contributes to the county’s economy. This includes measures of jobs, imports, earnings, and more.
  • Land Use and Fiscal Characteristics details relevant data involving county land, taxes, and fiscal matters
  • Community Assets is a qualitative look into the existing and desired qualities of the community

Within these sections are subsections consisting of specific economic data, accompanied by detailed tables and corresponding figures. Throughout the report there is an emphasis on changes and trends over the course of given time periods. Accompanying each table and figure are short analyses that highlight these changes and trends.

Cultural Overview

On Nevada’s eastern border, White Pine County is bordered by Elko County to the north, Lincoln and Nye Counties to the south, Eureka County to the west, and the State of Utah to the east. With a diverse landscape, including 8,877 square miles of mountains, lakes, caves, campgrounds, foothills, valleys, rangeland, and desert, it is no understatement that White Pine’s county slogan reads “in the middle of everywhere.”

White Pine’s rural landscape is the perfect backdrop for the county’s half a dozen towns and census-designated places that put an emphasis on community. Through its outdoor recreational activity, rich history, seasonal and annual events, veteran appreciation, museums and the arts, and involved school district, White Pine remains a place proud to be called home. With its variety in destination, the county is also a place to which many tourists can travel to get away.

Geography and Climate

Temperature in White Pine fluctuates on account of the wilderness areas, mountain peaks, and parks. In both the north and the south of the county, however, temperatures resemble each other relative to similar elevation. As far north as Cherry Creek and as south as Lund, the average January low is around 14°F and the average July high is around 90°F. In the southeast, within Great Basin National Park, the county’s highest point, Wheeler Peak, reaches temperatures below zero. Otherwise, the rest of Great Basin National Park varies in temperature, with its makeup of ancient bristlecone pine groves, cave formations, mountain meadows, and wildlife such as elk, cougars, bobcats, and Nevada’s state animal, the bighorn sheep.

Great Basin National Park is one of three national protected areas in White Pine, the other two being Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which is also part of Elko County, and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, encompassing 19 counties through Nevada and California, making it the largest national forest in the contiguous 48 states. Within these national areas, as well as around the rest of the county, are 14 designated wilderness areas. As part of the White Pine County Conservation, Recreation and Development Act created by Congress on December 20, 2006, which recognized these wilderness areas, half of these areas make up the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, while the other half are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). A full list of the wilderness areas is available at Nevada Wilderness.

Great Basin National Park is a national park composed of the Lehman Caves, multiple campgrounds mostly active in the summer months, hiking trails of varying difficulty, spots for fishing, and several visitor centers that span the length of the park. According to Travel Nevada, the park “is filled with incredible natural treasures like spectacular alpine lakes,
limestone caverns, the oldest living trees on planet Earth and the darkest night skies in the lower 48 states.” Moreover, the park’s management is dutiful to keeping the community alerted, as evidenced by examples in 2020 with COVID-19 work-arounds, and Wheeler Park Campground shutdowns because of site improvements to be made. Perhaps most alluring, as also pointed out by Travel Nevada: “this National Park boasts a feature that’s hard to come by anymore: no crowds.”

As of 2016, Great Basin National Park was designated an International Dark Sky Park, which means the park “provides distinguished and significant opportunities to experience dark nights.” Not only can campers see the stars on their own, but park programs bolster the experience for families and children. For example, the Star Train features park rangers guiding a tour on a train where along the way, passengers disembark to view the sky through high-powered telescopes. Similarly, the Full Moon Hike features a ranger who guides the tour “just after the sunset” into the moonlit sky. There is also solar telescope viewing in general, as well as the annual Astronomy Festival in the middle of September that consists of “three days and nights of astronomy-themed events, including the famous ranger talent show and stargazing through over 20 different telescopes” (National Park Service).

Community Involvement and Activity

All throughout the year in White Pine, community events draw locals and surrounding enthusiasts to the center of the county and around. At Cave Lake State Park, between Ely and Great Basin National Park, summer and winter months are packed with activities. As detailed on Nevada State Parks, in the summer, the water is primed for boating and fishing, with 32-acres of reservoir and a stock of Rainbow trout and German brown trout. At Cave Lake the White Pine residents and visitors swim, hike, camp, and mountain bike. “Once winter arrives, guests of the park can enjoy ice fishing, skating, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. The park is also home to abundant and diverse wildlife.”

In addition to these year-round activities and amenities, annual events like the Rotary Club Ice Fishing Derby, the Fire and Ice Winter Festival, and the Take it to the Lake Half Marathon showcase White Pine the community. The Ice Fishing Derby is a friendly outdoor gathering in January where folks celebrate their love for fishing. Likewise in the winter, the unique Fire and Ice Winter Festival is a 3-day festival with an ice sculpting competition followed by a fireworks train and the burning of the sculptures. Other competitions include bowling and ice horseshoes, and extend to indoor competitions as well, with bowling, darts, and billiards. Videos of Ely’s Fire and Ice Winter Festival are available on Visit Ely Nevada’s YouTube Channel, where event trailers showcase the variety of all the competitions, and footage of the final ceremonies can be viewed, where at least a thousand folks gather at night around the bonfire for cheer. In a similar vein, only at the end of summer as opposed to the middle of winter, the Take it to the Lake Half Marathon invites residents from White Pine and the surrounding regions to compete in a half marathon followed by a barbecue and a raffle. Hosting events like these are the Ely Outdoor Enthusiasts, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to encourage people to be active and lead a healthy lifestyle through fitness events that raise funds for community-wide wellness while promoting tourism for White Pine County.” The famous 6,800-mile American Discovery Trail also runs through the park, as well as White Pine itself, going through Preston, the Ward Charcoal Ovens, and past the park, into Baker and then into Utah.

Outside the festivities at Cave Lake State Park and Great Basin National Park, many more White Pine events throughout the region bring communities together. The inaugural Ely Film
Festival in 2020 marked the beginning of a new annual event that put an emphasis on student films as well as featured, award-winning films that have ties to Ely and White Pine County.

Meanwhile the annual Race the Rails event, which started in 2017, furtherly showcases White Pine’s involvement: White Pine County Tourism & Recreation hosts a mountain bike race alongside steam engines, with 100% of the proceeds being reinvested into the trail systems within White Pine. Alongside these events are others like the White Pine County Fair, the Fears, Tears, and Beers Mountain Biking Race, and Arts in the Park, where artists gather annually from across the U.S.

History

White Pine’s early history is mapped out extensively by Russell Richard Elliot in his article “The Early History of White Pine County, Nevada, 1865-1887.” As early as 1855, the county’s settlements began as a part of Utah territory. In the beginning, the county’s places acted as “cut-offs” on routes to the West, for travelers to take. The Pony Express, for example, traversed through White Pine towards the west.

White Pine was excluded from the original Nevada territory in 1861, but by 1869, it was carved out as its own Nevada county. From there on out, its borders would later develop by acts of Nevada State Legislature: once in 1875, granting it a thirty by ninety-mile strip, and again in 1881, when a portion of White Pine was detached and granted to Eureka County. In the early period, White Pine was mostly a mining community, and the mining was concerned “almost exclusively with silver production” (Elliot 147). White Pine mining history can be broken down into various districts, which each had their own mining histories, from obscurities to booms. One of the largest discoveries was made on Treasure Hill in 1867, when a large silver deposit inevitably led to eight million dollars’ worth of silver by 1873. The stories of how the discovery was made differs in parts, but a lot of accounts refer back to an Indian named Napias Jim who returned a favor made by A.J. Leathers, by giving Leathers “a piece of ore which, when melted, produced a button of silver” (150). This led Jim to showing Leathers where he got the ore, which led to the subsequent booms, with the main rush happening between 1869 and 1870.

The early rush to White Pine is not without a little chaos. The “two opposing forces of whisky and religion” are referenced in the ins and outs of the Hamilton saloon and stores. At the same time, the historian wonders: “how all this mad mass of humanity managed to eat and sleep is a social phenomenon” (154). There were houses made of anything from rough or planed lumber, slabs, and pine logs to wooden blankets, raw hides, mud, and stone (154-155). In addition to this were many tents, because there was no hotel in the beginning of the rush. Even by 1869, when Hamilton, the then-county seat, was incorporated, there was no mayor. Several fires over the next few decades, and the transfer of the county seat to Ely, eventually turned Hamilton into a ghost town.

“The mines of White Pine County from 1869 to 1890 produced a lot more excitement than they did money” (157). That being said, “If the mines of White Pine did not produce the wealth expected of them, they did cause enough speculation to satisfy the mass of so-called capitalists who raided the districts” (159). As a society of mining communities, early White Pine was described as individualistic (160). There was a craze for bonanza, and homicides totaled twenty-one between 1868 and 1879, mostly from mining quarrels and drunken brawls. All this being said, there was a heavy sense for community and its development. The best example comes in the formation of a school district, election of a board of trustees, and the choice of a school teacher “before there was a single child in the community” (164). In White Pine there were many benevolent societies and clubs as well, including Masonic and Odd Fellow lodges, the Grand Army of the Republic composed of veterans (G.A.R.), The Order of Chosen Friends, Engine and Ladder Companies, and Guard Companies, among others. “Although the purpose of these [groups] was, in the beginning, one of a business nature, as time went on they became more and more the center of dances, parties, and other social pastimes” (165). The echo of these early beneficial organizations can be seen in White Pine today, with the nonprofit organizations that provide the county with a way to connect.

After these early days, copper replaced silver, and then White Pine became the most productive mining and smelting region in the state, and between 1902 made more than $1.0 billion in ore. Pits were located at Ruth and Kimberley, and the large smelter at McGill. To this day, however, as mining eases, there is a lot more emphasis on tourism and recreation. “As the rest of the West becomes increasingly crowded, visitors seem to be drawn more and more to the vast open spaces of White Pine County, where solitude and quiet can still be found in abundance” (elynevada.net).

White Pine Now

On June 15, 2020, the Ely Times reported a story of White Pine food banks keeping children from hunger. The First Baptist Church held distributions through the USDA and the Northern Nevada Food Bank, marking the seventh year that these distributions have reached folks in need in White Pine. A few months before the outbreak of COVID-19, there was the story of the drug court giving a second chance to those battling addiction. The court’s graduates shared their arduous journeys and the overseeing district court judge spoke on the importance of the program. Around the same time, the David E. Norman Elementary School robotics team travelled to Henderson, Nevada for the robotics championship, and took home three of the tournament’s highest awards. Out of the 62 teams, all five White Pine teams finished in the top 50%.

In White Pine they know each other. Groups and organizations like White Pine County Clutter, White Pine County Tourism & Recreation, and White Pine Living are comprised of community members remaining in-touch online and in-person. A certain online group described the county’s involvement as feeling “the tug of White Pine.” From the county’s beginnings, where a school district was formed and benevolent societies promoted the development of the county, into today, White Pine stands out as a community in solidarity.

For the complete report, use the link below to download the PDF version of the report.

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