TRUCKEE, Calif. - I'm surprised that many people mistakenly think that the preservation of Royal Gorge - 2,900 acres at the crest of the Sierra Nevada - is a done deal. Yes, the Truckee Donner Land Trust, in partnership with The Trust for Public Land and support from the Northern Sierra Partnership, is in escrow to purchase the property and preserve it in perpetuity.
But the very challenging task of raising $13.5 million to fund the deal by the December 20 close of escrow is far from over. With the deadline looming, let me share a little information - much of it borrowed from the website of the Truckee Donner Land Trust (www.tdlandtrust.org), which provides greater depth for those who want more detail.
What's the current status?
The Truckee Donner Land Trust and The Trust for Public Land, working with the Northern Sierra Partnership, have reached an agreement to purchase the 2,900-acre Royal Gorge property at Donner Summit.
This deal comes after the current landowner, contemplating a 950-home development at the site, went into foreclosure last year. To date, we have raised over $8 million. The response from the community and people that care about conservation has been overwhelming.
Why is it important?
The Land Trust and its partners have been working toward this opportunity for twenty years. We now have our best shot in a generation to protect all of Royal Gorge's remarkable meadows, peaks, forests, streams, and lakes forever.
This rugged but delicate terrain at the crest of the Sierra offers remarkable beauty, natural habitat, peace, fresh air, dark skies, water quality, and rich historic significance.
The Land Trust will work with the community to develop a management plan for the property that includes open space, recreation, habitat protection, fire suppression, and forest health. Donner Summit is a hiker's paradise. It's the birthplace of California ski resorts. And Royal Gorge Nordic Center provides some of the best cross-country skiing opportunities in the United States.
The agreement will ensure that Royal Gorge Nordic Center, which generates more than $1 million dollars in gross revenue and employs up to 75 people, will stay in business. And furthering Donner Summit's role as a summer destination for recreation will benefit outdoor and tourist-based businesses in our entire region.
How do land trusts work?
I first learned about land trusts in 1982 when I was studying Natural Resource Economics during my college junior year abroad in New Zealand. We did a case study on the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, of all places, while I was in a classroom 6,000 miles away.
"What a great idea," I thought. "Willing buyers deal with willing sellers, without cumbersome regulation, costly legislation, or intrusive intervention. A land trust, funded largely by private donations, is a great way for a community to come together to express its collective values by putting its money where its mouth is. If people don't want development in their backyard, they can pool their money and collectively buy land to set it aside forever."
Who will own and manage the property?
If the purchase is successful, the Truckee Donner Land Trust will ultimately hold title to the Royal Gorge property. Uses will be limited to conservation and recreation purposes. The threat of development that began in 2005 is still fresh in people's minds, and it will rear its head again in the future unless this deal comes to fruition.
Current county zoning calls for as many as 3,238 new houses for the Royal Gorge property and even some commercial development. A successful purchase by the Land Trust will assure that development is not an option.
Leverage your donation
The time to donate is now. Several challenge grants are available until November 15, so your tax-deductible donations to the Truckee Donner Land Trust will go even further if you contribute in the next couple of weeks. Contact the Land Trust to get in on the action by calling 530-582-4711 or clicking on www.tdlandtrust.org.
Let's take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime chance to preserve a precious slice of the Sierra in perpetuity. It's a tremendous opportunity, which comes with an enormous challenge. Let's step up and make this dream a reality. Let's buy it!
Anne Chadwick is a writer and photographer who splits her time between Sebastopol and Serene Lakes. She serves on the Truckee Donner Land Trust Advisory Board and is a member of its Stewardship Committee.