Webber Lake campground opens to the public Aug. 1 | SierraSun.com

Webber Lake campground opens to the public Aug. 1

Few visitors to Lake Tahoe realize that 25 miles north of Truckee sits a pristine lake surrounded by gorgeous meadows and one of California's oldest hotels, but that could be about to change.

Beginning in August, the Webber Lake campground will be open to the public for the first time in many years thanks to a 2012 purchase agreement between the Truckee Donner Land Trust and the property's previous owners.

"It's going to be a work in progress as this is our first foray into the hospitality business," said Truckee Donner Land Trust Stewardship Director John Svahn.

The land trust, through partnerships with other environmental groups and government agencies, has been slowly but surely purchasing pieces of land throughout the North Lake Tahoe and Truckee area to prevent them from being developed and to ensure public access.

Though Webber Lake is owned and managed by the state, the land trust acquired the land surrounding it and the adjacent Lacey Meadows area in 2012 from its previous owners, who grazed sheep on the property and used it as a private fishing campground.

Before the previous owners would sell the property, they had two conditions: that the land continues to be used for grazing sheep and that it is run as a campground.

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"The acquisition piece was really difficult," said Perry Norris, the executive director of the land trust.

Norris said that the property, then owned by Clif and Barbara Johnson, had been family owned for years, and their trust wasn't easy to earn.

"Clif thought I was honestly a communist tree hugger at first," Norris said. "It took a year of just going down there and chatting with the Johnsons for them to realize that what they wanted for the property was aligned with what the land trust intended for the property."

He said that in the end, the couple ended up selling their property to land trust for significantly less than it was valued at — not because they were unaware of what they could get for it, but because they wanted to see the land protected.

"They sold it for three-quarters of a million dollars under appraised value, so they contributed to its preservation, and they turned down more lucrative offers," Norris said. "The property probably could've had up to ten estate McMansions around it and remained private. They were offered more money than we could pay, and they turned those offers down because they wanted the property preserved."

The land trust purchased the property for $8 million in November 2012 with the help of the Wildlife Conservation Board, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and the Natural Resources Agency, as well as some private donors, he said. The Trust for Public Land and the Nature Conservancy also partnered with the land trust on the acquisition.

While the trailhead was immediately opened to the public, other parts of the property weren't immediately ready.

The 35-site campground needed to be designed so that each site had privacy and there was plenty of room for large RVs to make turns, for example. Bathrooms were another amenity that needed to be added, and four campsites were made compliant with the American Disabilities Act

Svahn said that although they're accepting reservations currently and the campground will open to guests beginning Aug. 1, the official grand opening wouldn't be until next year.

"The campground constitutes a rather small part of the property," Norris said. "This is our trial run, and we're anxious to hear what the public wants and thinks."

The sites are each equipped with a bear box, picnic table and fire pit, though there are no RV hook ups available. There will be temporary bathrooms available through the remainder of this year, and Svahn said they plan to install permanent ones next year.

"It's really interesting. We've owned the property for, this is our sixth year, and heretofore it was entirely kind of a fishing place, and now people are picnicking and there are as many paddleboards on the lake as there are fishing boats," Norris said.

The lake was recently stocked with Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, he said, and is home to other species of fish as well, making it a great location for fishing in addition to camping. Boats are permitted, though inspections are enforced and there is a 5 mph speed limit.

As for the Webber Lake Hotel that was built in 1863, guests won't be able to stay there overnight but they will be able to visit.

"We've had government officials tell us that it's one of the oldest standing buildings in Northern California, so we're just trying to preserve it," Norris said. "It's never going to be a hotel again, but we are trying to use it as an exhibit to capture Webber Lake's incredible history."

To find out more or to make a reservations, visit the Truckee Donner Land Trust website at tdlandtrust.org.

Amanda Rhoades is a news, environment and business reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at arhoades@sierrasun.com or 530-550-2653. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @akrhoades.

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