By Kay Lynn Roberts McMurray
Many locals questioned each other as to what the tent city was all about on the back nine of the golf course, and why did the lines at the grocery store seem to be so long?
It was all due to the arrival of the National Speliological Society (NSS), which has brought in approximately 1,100 members for an entire week of cave exploration, workshops, and geological tours to celebrate the 75th anniversary of their society.
Known as “cavers,” members range in ages from 20 to 92 years old, many with families that have their kids participating in caving as young as two years old. Cavers traveled in from all over the United States, as far as Missouri, Texas, Wisconsin, and as close as St. George.
The convention started on Saturday with several educational activities at the park for locals to participate in, and the unveiling of a mural and a movie in the park.
Attending the event could possibly be the oldest member of the NSS, Vance Nelson, a 92 year old World War II veteran who served in the Navy.
Nelson was married to his late wife, Margie Nelson, whose father, Bill Stevenson, founded the Society in 1941. Nelson started caving in 1970 when his two sons reached their teenage years and they inspired him to try caving. Nelson was 46 years old at the time, which he said is when most cavers stop exploring.
He continued caving for the next 34 years, while teaching climbing classes at the conventions. Nelson shared several stories that were both fascinating and frightening, describing how he could climb into a small confined space or rappel 800 feet down into a cave of pure darkness without any fear.
The equipment he used when he first started out seemed very primitive, much of it being equipment he crafted together himself, making one wonder how could that really be safe?
Nelson said that he has never broken a bone or had an injury while caving because he takes safety very seriously. Nelson has stopped caving and now attends the conventions teaching knot classes at the conventions, sharing his stories and catching up with old friends.
The convention brings quite a bit of revenue into White Pine County. The golf course coordinated with NSS over a year ago to rent the back half of the links to NSS to be utilized for campers. County school buses are being utilized as shuttle busses for the cavers, and the high school is the main location for workshops. Hotels are at full capacity and grocery stores and restaurants ordered extra food and beverages to ensure they could accommodate the number of people coming in for the convention.
The community has done a great deal to ensure that the cavers would have a pleasant experience and everything the cavers needed while visiting Ely, which was proven Monday night at the convention kickoff party.
When a committee member had not prepared adequately enough for the amount of beverages they needed for the party, several businesses and locals stepped in and were able to rectify the situation before the cavers noticed.
With several days left of the convention, the community is sure to get a financial boost that is needed and welcomed.