INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The owners of the famed Ponderosa Ranch want to make a public/private land swap with Washoe County that they say will enhance recreation on one of Lake Tahoe’s popular hiking trails.
The move — labeled a “generous donation” by developers — has also drawn criticism from conservation groups and residents in Crystal Bay who say their rights to public lake access would be stripped in the process.
Washoe County would get a 16.5-acre piece of private land currently owned by Ponderosa Ranch, according to the proposal. On that land is the historic Bull Wheel monument and an extension of the Flume Trail.
In return, an 8-foot-wide strip of county-owned land and adjoining roadway stub in Crystal Bay would be deeded to Nevada Pacific Development Corporation.
The strip — located between two private residences at 61 and 44 Somers Loop — extends from Somers Loop, roughly a quarter-mile south of Crystal Drive, down to the shore.
Nevada Pacific Development Corporation owns both residences. Billionaire businessman David Duffield, founder of Workday and Peoplesoft, owns Ponderosa Ranch and is president of NPDC.
Lake Tahoe land-use consultant company Midkiff and Associates and its principal planner, Gary D. Midkiff, are representing both companies through the process.
Midkiff discussed the project before the Incline Village-Crystal Bay Citizen Advisory Board Tuesday night. Roughly 75 residents and nonresidents attended the meeting, with many commenting for and against the idea.
Midkiff and supporters say making the 16.5 acres located near Tunnel Creek public would help forever preserve the Bull Wheel, which was used to hoist lumber up the mountain to the flume for the mines in Virginia City in the 1880s.
Further, it would extend public access to the portion of the Flume Trail that falls on private land. The Flume is annually hiked and biked by thousands of residents and visitors.
HE SAID, SHE SAID
“It’s really a win-win for everyone,” Midkiff said. “The public gains more access to a wonderful trail, and it relieves the county of a liability of a steep strip of land that does not provide adequate access to the lake.”
Midkiff said the Crystal Bay strip of land is “dangerous and not usable,” and considering a set of “safe” stairs roughly 800 yards away allows for public access to Lake Tahoe, Crystal Bay residents won’t lose an entry point to its waters.
Several trail enthusiasts supported the proposition at Tuesday’s meeting, saying the Flume Trail connection is needed in terms of overall preservation, and it could boost tourism to the area.
But others, including North Tahoe Preservation Alliance President Ann Nichols, disagree. She said she has 65- and 70-year-old neighbors who are able to climb down the access point.
“Access is tricky, but it is not dangerous or inaccessible. It just needs stairs,” she said Tuesday night. “The proposed abandonment creates a dangerous precedent for the elimination of future public rights of way and lake access easements at Tahoe.”
Nichols also reminded those in attendance that the county commission turned down an abandonment request for the strip of land in Crystal Bay in 2007.
The Tahoe Area Sierra Club Group also is opposed.
“(It) begins with a generous offer, but could end with the local residents and other public losing a well-known trail to the lake,” Laurel Ames, conservation chair, said in a statement. “... Lake access is so limited on the north shore that existing access to coves and beaches must take precedence.”
Crystal Bay resident Frank Wright, who lives on Somers Loop, shared a similar view, saying that while making the 16.5-acre property public may help the Flume Trail, it means nothing when levied against him losing a public lake access point.
“You don’t (make a deal) like this with someone else’s investment in life,” Wright said Tuesday night.
Signage at the top of the strip of land indicates the access point is closed and unsafe for public use, something Midkiff said was confirmed by licensed surveyors and architects he used to assess the property.
‘IT’S A PACKAGE DEAL’
The proposal will be on the agenda for discussion at the Tuesday, May 13, Washoe County Commission meeting in Reno.
“It will not be voted on as a project,” Marsha Berkbigler, Incline/Crystal Bay’s commissioner, said on Wednesday. “Commissioners might ask staff to investigate and come back with more information, but there will not be a vote on approving.”
While no action was taken Tuesday night, CAB Chair Mark Alexander said it was clear based on plenty of opposition and support that many questions need answering.
Because of that, he and other members are in favor of recommending to the commission the issue be split into two areas: one dealing with the safety of the strip, the other with a potential donation from the Ponderosa of the 16.5 acres.
But that won’t be on the table come Tuesday, Midkiff said in a follow-up interview Wednesday.
“We did hear a lot of people who would like to cherry pick, who would like to get the public benefit that they want, but not give the owner anything in return,” he said Wednesday. “When this issue was raised before in 2007, the county didn’t necessarily say ‘no.’ But they didn’t get anything in return.
“Now we are giving them a proposal with a return in spades. The package is what it is — it’s a package deal.”
The 12-acre estate at 61 Somers Loop includes roughly 1,800 feet of lakefront. It was formerly owned by James Stack Sr., the advertising man behind the Quaker Oats brand, whose sons, Robert and James, had successful Hollywood acting careers.