Elko urges tourists to come back as crickets retreat

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- Elko County officials are trying to convince travelers that their piece of northeast Nevada is no longer under siege from a Mormon cricket infestation that might have scared away some tourists.

"I could take you out in the open places on some dirt roads and show you several thousand crickets crossing the road," said Steve Dondero, chairman of the board of Elko's convention center. "But you have to go looking for them. You have to out in the hills. They are not in town."

State agricultural experts said Thursday that they have made headway against the 2Y-inch long insects that have infested up to 6 million acres in Nevada. The crickets are expected to be a nuisance, but a diminished one, for about another month.

"It has slowed down quite a bit," said Jeff Knight, an entomologist for the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

"The places where tourists are going to be haven't had any big reports of crickets. I don't see a problem with anybody traveling to anywhere in Nevada as far as that is concerned," he said.

Local tourism officials said they're on the offensive because of reports some bikers might skip this weekend's annual motorcycle jamboree in Elko for fear of the creepy crawlers.

"I think there's a perception that you could be riding your Harley down Interstate 80 and all the sudden 'boom' -- there could be a swarm of crickets and you'd slide right off the road," said Ralph McMullen, executive director of the Elko Convention and Visitor's Authority.

"That's not the case at all," he said.

Elko County Commissioner Charlie Myers acknowledged there have been problems and that the outbreak caused some significant damage to crops. But he said some media reports are outdated and causing unnecessary cancelations by summer vacationers.

"I think it has had an economic impact," Myers said Wednesday on KELK Radio's "Elko, Live!"

Myers said organizers of this week's motorcycle jamboree report a handful of hotel reservations have been canceled "because of crickets." In addition, Casino Express airline has had cancellations on its gambling junkets into Elko, he said.

State scientists said some of the largest pockets of crickets are still reported south of Interstate 80 near Battle Mountain and Winnemucca -- 50 to 100 miles west of Elko.

"From our point of view, we have pretty good evidence that they were as bad as people said," Knight said.

"It's just a matter of putting things in place in terms of treatment to keep the impacts down. We are putting a lot of effort into this -- that's why people are seeing a downswelling."

Martin Larraneta, a state agriculture supervisor, said a combination of state crews and residents applying insecticide-soaked bait made a significant dent in the Elko area.

"We killed them by the millions," Larraneta told the Elko Daily Free Press.

Mild winters and three years of drought provided ideal conditions for the insects, which hatch in the spring and feed through the summer. Experts say this year's infestation in Nevada, Utah and Idaho could be the worst in decades.

Elko residents have been trying to make the best out of the situation.

Dondero said the winner of the $500 prize in a recent fishing derby caught the 4-pound trout using a cricket for bait.

McMullen said a local newspaper has printed a menu for how to cook and eat crickets.

"We're looking into pari-mutuel cricket racing," Dondero said. "It is Nevada, you know."


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