August 6, 2012 | Back to: News

Conservation groups to buy Royal Gorge for $11.25M

SODA SPRINGS, Calif. — Conservation groups are hailing it as the most significant Sierra Nevada land acquisition “in our lifetimes.”

The 3,000-acre Royal George property west of Truckee will be purchased by a regional conservation consortium that will protect the property for years to come, officials said Friday.

The historic property nestled atop Donner Summit boasts landscapes and tales iconic of the American West: It features a Native American trade route, a critical portion of the historic Transcontinental Railroad and a biologically significant habitat for a multitude of species.

It will be purchased for $11.25 million by the Trust for Public Land, the Truckee Donner Land Trust and the Northern Sierra Partnership.

The Truckee Donner trust will own and manage the property after the sale is complete. Completion hinges on the conservation groups’ ability to raise a total of $13.5 million by Dec. 20, said Perry Norris, the Truckee Donner trust’s executive director.

The $2.25 million gap between the purchase price and the fundraising goal will be used to maintain the property, which is in need of fuels management and the implementation and maintenance of recreational trails, Norris said.

The purchase also includes an additional 300 acres in the Negro Canyon area, Norris said.

“It’s the single biggest conservation acquisition in the Sierra Nevada in our lifetimes,” said Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch, a Nevada City-based nonprofit that opposed development plans for the property, proposed in 2005.

Kirk Syme bought the property in 2005 for $30 million with the intention of developing a large portion into a 950-unit luxury resort and vacation-home subdivision. Syme’s default on $16.7 million loan in June 2011, and subsequent court actions essentially ended the development bid.

“From a conservation standpoint, this is a near-perfect project,” Norris said. “In our business, size matters, and this is an awful lot of land to set aside.”

The Tahoe Donner trust will focus on enhancing the recreational potential of the property by installing multi-use trails on it, Norris said.

The property is biologically significant, as the Van Norden Meadows area is crucial habitat for 100 species of birds, 20 species of mammals and 115 species of butterflies, Norris said.

The parcel of land also plays a significant role in the history of the European settlement of California, as it was used as a principal transportation route in the latter half of the 19th century.

Most importantly, it will protect the wide swath of mountainous terrain from any further development possibilities, Norris said.

The land is one of the last large land tracts in the Sierra Nevada that was subject to development, as most of the high country south of Lake Tahoe is under public ownership, Norris said.

“You have the Pacific Crest, the Transcontinental Railway, a Native American trade route — it's just a really incredible place,” Mooers said.

While Mooers, Norris and Sam Hodder, California State Director of the Trust for Public Land, exuded excitement, they have much work ahead.

The consortium has raised about 25 percent of the $13.5 million fundraising objective to date, Norris said.

“Normally, I would lose sleep over a goal like that, but the response from the community has been exceptional,” Norris said. “We are about to undertake an unprecedented and extraordinary campaign.”

Norris is in preliminary negotiations with Sugar Bowl Ski Resort to manage the famed Nordic cross country ski resort already on the Royal Gorge property.

Sugar Bowl’s participation is contingent on many factors, including a lease agreement with the new owners, Sugar Bowl spokesman John Monson said.

However, Monson expressed excitement at the possibility of renovating the cross country resort and adding it to Sugar Bowl’s winter recreation portfolio.

Matthew Renda
mrenda@theunion.com


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Aug 6, 2012 12:30PM Published Aug 6, 2012 12:30PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.