Ben Rowley

I’m going to ask you an overused question, only hopefully in a less tired context. It’s a question you were asked at a family gathering when you were four feet tall. One of your great aunts asked it because she had no idea what to talk to a 10-year-old about.

I ask it to the entire community, collectively. Lincoln County, what do you want to be when you grow up?

In many ways, we have a community that is completely grown up, centered in a family-first lifestyle. It is full of folks who have their priorities straight and know what life is really about. But in terms of our economy, infrastructure, architecture, and population, we’re just pups.

That may change soon. A major growth spurt is a serious possibility, according to the Master Plan for Lincoln County, Nevada, which was put together by county and town officials a few years back. “A current population of roughly 4400 residents could swell to over 200,000 people within 20 years,” the document states. Of course, this estimate was given just before the nation spun into a deep recession, Nevada being one of the hardest hit areas. But as the economy continues to stabilize and starts growing again, don’t be surprised if those growth pressures return to our area.

It puts us in a rare situation with a major opportunity to show how a community should grow up. If we do it right, we can allow more of our young people to return home and raise their families in this peaceful, rural setting. If we do it wrong, this peaceful, rural setting may be blindsided by out-of-control growth.

Neighboring communities provide us with many examples of the latter, with Las Vegas, of course, being the leader of the pack. Growth spread like a tidal wave over that vast valley. And most were more than happy to let Vegas’ tourist-dependent, immature economy churn until it had heat stroke. Opportunists came to the city in droves, like carp swarming a crumb on Lake Mead, to earn their quick fortunes. The result: bland architecture, walled communities with cookie-cutter homes, an inadequate transportation system, overcrowded schools, and now an economy that recessed deeper and will be slower coming back than the nation overall.

Mesquite seems to be following a similar path. The nice, quiet town my grandparents knew in the 50s has given way to casino hotels, golf resorts, and a slew of quickly built homes, one looking similar to the next.

And St. George provides the perfect contrast of careful compared to quick development. The old part of town, designed by pioneers, remains peaceful, with wide streets and modest, but well-kept homes. Whereas a ride down South River Road or a trip to neighboring Washington’s big-box shopping areas makes most folks want to yank their hair out.

I don’t mean to belittle other communities and acknowledge that there are cool features and wonderful people in each of those towns. But I bet even many who call those places home would agree that they could have grown up a little more wisely.

How do we avoid their mistakes? I applaud our officials for putting a plan in place now, and their plan in many respects is spot on in trying to preserve this rural environment while still allowing for smart growth. One way the plan does this is by calling for commercial and industrial development along the county’s highway and railroad corridors while specifically speaking against such development on agricultural lands.

I’m guessing the officials realize the day we start plowing ag lands over for a housing subdivision or commercial center is the day we kiss Lincoln County the way we know it goodbye. Preserving this community’s agriculture is the key ingredient to keeping our rural lifestyle intact, and I’m glad it seems our officials feel the same.

Now, having a plan is one thing, but how the plan plays out when push comes to shove is quite another. Money is power and when the big investor with big money wants to buy the family ranch to build a mega-development or simply harvest the water, who do you think will win?

In order for the plan to work, our agricultural operations need to buck the national trend. It needs to make financial sense for our ranchers and farmers to keep ranching and farming rather than sell to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for a family ranch or farm to make ends meet. Most rely on government subsidies to make it work. Giant corporations are buying up much of the agricultural land and hiring ranch managers to run the operations. In high-growth areas, such as the Wasatch Front, farmers and ranchers are selling their land to developers, unable to resist the multimillion-dollar deals offered (can you blame them?).

It’s a backwards trend, really. Nationally, we continually plow over the land that helps sustain human life. And our economy has put the people who love to work the land and provide those products under constant financial hardship and pressure.

If Lincoln County wants to grow up maintaining its beloved, rural lifestyle, while providing new industry and jobs for the next generation, it has to be done by making the family ranch and farm viable again. The latest developments in agriculture need to be adopted to increase productivity and earnings. The industrial and commercial parks, now sitting vacant, should recruit organizations and businesses that seek to improve agriculture and advocate for family-owned ranches and farms. Agriculture can’t just be a nice hobby. It needs to be a productive, viable option that can provide for a family. We need to make our agricultural land as productive as possible.

Other industries are sure to follow to support a growing agriculture economy. But let’s be careful how fast they come, and let’s avoid the big-box chains, the cookie-cutter construction, and all the other things that make surroundings bland and give us headaches.

Idealistic? Maybe. How is it to be done? I don’t know. That’s where the experts come in.

But I think it’s possible if the will is there. Results come after belief in a cause, setting broad as well as incremental goals, careful planning, and hard work. If we put our efforts toward improving what already makes our communities wonderful, we’ll see the results.

However we grow up, let’s do it right by preserving what makes Lincoln County great. I hope the green in our beautiful valleys is never replaced by concrete. Let’s be unique, productive, and self-sustaining and not settle for the quick-and-easy or chasing the fast buck.