TRUCKEE, Calif. - Conservation groups Friday morning announced the purchase and protection from development of the nation's largest cross-country ski area, the 3,000-acre Royal Gorge property on Donner Summit in the Sierra Nevada.
The Truckee Donner Land Trust and The Trust for Public Land, working as part of the Northern Sierra Partnership, have raised $11.25 million, meeting a Dec. 20 deadline, to complete a deal that was first announced in early August. The total includes private donations along with public money.
The groups bought the property from court-appointed Receiver Douglas P. Wilson, who took over the land after a failed development plan that would have built a 950-unit resort on the property. More than 1,000 people donated to the five-month-long campaign.
"It is not exaggerating to say this might be one of the most important conservation victories for the Sierra in a generation," said Perry Norris, Executive Director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust. "This is a project that eliminates an enormous development threat, provides world-class recreation, and has fantastic and truly unique natural resources."
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation will provide bridge funding through a program-related investment to cover for the expected public funds until those funds are available over the next two years. Overall, the three groups are trying to raise $15.5 million, which will include future improvements on the property.
Local residents at Serene Lakes and Sugar Bowl, both near Royal Gorge, provided most of the private money. The Nature Conservancy, as well as Sierra Watch, also helped raise funds for the campaign.
"Saving Royal Gorge is a great example of our goal of protecting land for people," said Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public Land. "Families have been coming to Royal Gorge for many years and now those families can be assured that this wonderful place will still be there for future generations to enjoy."
The Truckee Donner Land Trust will own the land and lease it during the winter to the nearby alpine Sugar Bowl resort to manage.
Royal Gorge is at Donner Pass, one of the West's best-known historic sites, chiefly because of the tragic story of the ill-fated Donner Party. In 1869, the nation's first transcontinental railroad crossed the Sierra at Donner Summit, opening the region to travelers. The Royal Gorge resort was opened in the 1960s by alpine skier John Slouber. A number of famous winter athletes have trained there, including Glenn Jobe, Katerina Nash and Marcus Nash.
"Our shared success on Donner Summit will go down as one of the great chapters in the proud history of conservation in California," said Tom Mooers, Executive Director of Sierra Watch, which organized opposition to the proposed subdivision and development of the property. "Future generations will forever appreciate what we've done to prove, once again, that we can work together to protect the places we love."
The Palisades, Mountain Area Preservation, Sierra Business Council, North Fork American River Alliance, and Sierra Club also joined Sierra Watch in advocating for the conservation of Royal Gorge.
"We couldn't have succeeded today without the astounding generosity of hundreds of people who dug deep into their pockets to make this conservation victory possible," said Lucy Blake, President of the Northern Sierra Partnership.
- This story was emailed to the Sun by K.V. Van Lom of the Truckee Donner Land Trust.