Group takes time out for Hope Valley |

Group takes time out for Hope Valley

Rick Chandler

Motorists tend to blast down Highway 88 in the Hope Valley area without so much as a second glance – and that’s a tragedy. Why? Because they’re passing some of the most beautiful scenery on earth.

“You especially see it on holidays like Memorial Day,” said Jerry Sprout, who could be classified as a longtime friend of Hope Valley. “The motorists are just looking straight ahead, trying to get where they’re going as fast as they can. They’re missing all of this.”

Sprout was on hand with about 40 other volunteers to mend fences, clean up debris and plant willow trees along the West Fork of the Carson River on Saturday. The effort was organized by The Friends of Hope Valley – an organization formed in the mid-1980s to help preserve the Hope Valley meadows area.

Hope Valley used to be ranch land, with many property owners using the expansive meadows and access to water to raise their cattle. Eventually the ranchers began selling of the property, and groups such as the Friends of Hope Valley stepped in to help make sure that the landscape stayed in a pristine state.

“The group originally started in the mid-1980s, in response to a plan to run power lines through the middle of the valley,” said Debbie Waldear, FOHV president. “We’ve been here ever since.”

Thanks in part to their efforts, Congress in 1992 appropriated $23 million to purchase much of the land in Hope Valley. It is now run by the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Game.

There are very few cattle grazing in Hope Valley anymore. But volunteers still must come out once or twice a year to repair the old ranchers’ fences along the highway – not to keep cattle in, but to keep motorists out.

“It only takes one driver to ruin a meadow like this,” said Judy Warren, owner of Horsefeathers Fly Fishing School, which operates out of Sorenson’s Resort. She was working the fence line near Pickett’s Junction with about five other volunteers. “The snow takes the fences down in winter, and if we don’t repair them, people would come driving into the meadows with their four-wheel drives and all-terrain vehicles.

“This is a fragile area,” she said. “If someone drives through, it takes years for the meadow to recover. A good example is the Immigrant Trail. Wagons came through there 140 years ago, and you can still see the impact. You can still see the wagon ruts.”

The Forest Service stopped issuing permits for cattle grazing in 1992. But their effects are also still evident. Grazing wiped out much of the vegetation along the river, which is why the group plants trees each year.

“It was good to see so many people out here today,” said George Stricker, a South Lake Tahoe resident and director of the newly formed Hope Valley Institute, a local conservation group.

“There’s a strong population presence in the Tahoe area, so our work is more important than ever,” he said. “At one point they wanted to develop this whole area, and build condos. It’s a really good thing that the developers didn’t get in.”

But even though many visitors don’t seem to take special notice of Hope Valley, there are those who do.

“We’re just a bunch of people improving habitat,” Warren said. “Conservation efforts this high in the watershed reap benefits down the line, everywhere in the area.”

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