$29.5 million deal opens up swath of land | TahoeDailyTribune.com

$29.5 million deal opens up swath of land

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

The U.S. Forest Service has purchased nearly 1,800 acres of pristine land south of Lake Tahoe in Alpine County for $29.5 million.

It is the agency’s largest land purchase in Lake Tahoe Basin in more than 30 years. The transaction will allow the public to access some of the most beautiful land in the Western United States while protecting a portion of the basin’s watershed from development, conservationists say.

The land, called High Meadows, sits in a valley between Heavenly Ski Resort and Freel Peak and rolls along the banks of Cold Creek, a tributary to Lake Tahoe.

The Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit worked for more than a decade to buy the land, which will be open to hikers and non-motorized users such as equestrians, bicyclers and skiers.

The property was sold Friday by the Giovacchinis, a family that has been ranching in Nevada since 1851 and owned the land at Tahoe since 1905.

“Announcing this extraordinary addition to the public lands of the Tahoe Basin is among the most exciting and important of my experiences here,” said Maribeth Gustafson, forest supervisor at the basin. “High Meadows is not only a jewel in Tahoe’s crown, but a treasure of priceless environmental and recreational quality.”

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The American Land Conservancy, a nonprofit agency based in San Francisco, facilitated the sale of the land to the Forest Service.

“They weren’t able to run many cows on the ranch, so I think they thought, ‘Well, we might as well sell this to obtain better pasture at a more reasonable value,'” said Jacques Etchegoyhen, Nevada state director for the American Land Conservancy.

The entire Giovacchini ranch was 2,280 acres. The family decided to keep 490 acres of the ranch land but has agreed to allow public access through parts of the property. The family could not be reached for comment.

“They have been very private concerning what’s gone on in the last few months,” Etchegoyhen said. “The family has a long history of land stewardship. It does my heart and soul good that the family didn’t want to see development up there. I think that’s a direction the family could have gone if it wanted to.”

Right now the ranch land is fenced and only accessible by a rough four-wheel drive road. The Forest Service plans to improve public access to the area by linking existing trails and creating new ones. Paths that led to the Tahoe Rim Trail and Star Lake are expected to become trails maintained by the agency.

A gate that leads to the land will remain locked but parking in front of it will be available. No roads will be built on the land, but the Forest Service and Sierra Pacific Power will have limited access to an existing road.

The Forest Service came up with money to buy the land through the Santini-Burton Act. It was passed in 1980 to allow the proceeds from the sale of federal land near Las Vegas to be used to buy sensitive lands at Tahoe.

Before this land transaction, the agency’s largest purchase of property at the basin was when it bought land owned by George Whittell on the East Shore in the late 1960s.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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