VIRGINIA CITY, Nev. (AP) -- Work has begun to restore and protect the historic cemeteries in Virginia City and neighboring Gold Hill by installing new fencing to protect them from vandals.
Though the project was proposed by a small community group decades ago, only recently have funds been raised to make it a reality.
About 80 people, including country music singer and Storey County resident Lacy J. Dalton, gathered Monday at Virginia City's Silver Terrace Cemeteries to launch the project.
Comstock Cemetery Foundation officials said the work marks the first major protection effort in a century.
"Some of you have seen gradual improvements over the years. But the kind of work that's about to start has been a long time coming, and it's essential if these sites are to be protected," said Gary Bowyer, archaeologist for the Bureau of Land Management's Carson City Field Office.
For the past four years, the foundation has generated $930,000 to restore the historic Storey County grave sites. Of that amount, $350,000 came from a federal Save America's Treasures grant and $150,000 from the state.
The fencing project is scheduled to begin this week and be finished in four to six weeks.
In addition to Silver Terrace -- which includes nine separate burial grounds -- fences will be placed around the Jewish Cemetery to the north and Gold Hill Cemetery to the south.
Bowyer said the catalyst for the restoration project occurred when Virginia City activist Candace Wheeler visited his office five years ago. He said he told Wheeler she and others who supported the idea needed to form a nonprofit organization before the federal agency could help.
In 2000, the foundation was formed and the BLM began working with the State Historic Preservation Office to try to secure a Save America's Treasures grant.
Two years ago, the National Park Service appropriated $350,000. It marked only the second time the agency agreed to give funds for cemetery restoration.
"In the past, the park service always said this was something communities had to do on their own," said Historic Preservation Officer Ron James.
But James noted that in Virginia City's case, there's more people in the ground than are living in the community.