Truckee Donner Land Trust to celebrate 25 years of preserving regional history, open space in the Sierra | SierraSun.com

Truckee Donner Land Trust to celebrate 25 years of preserving regional history, open space in the Sierra

KV Van Lom
Special to the Sun
The Land Trust works with numerous volunteers to build and maintain trails, with a robust stewardship program that also includes monitoring 23 properties every fall.
Courtesy Sterling Lorence Photography |

If you go

What: Truckee Donner Land Trust 25th Anniversary Celebration

When: Saturday, Sept. 19, 3-6 p.m.

Where: Coppins Meadow (15 miles north of Truckee)

Information: Land Trust members, board and staff, and important partners and agencies, will be on hand. Expect a delicious catered event from Red Truck, music, beverages, and many a toast to the past 25 years. This event will also be a ribbon cutting dedication for the Coppins Meadow acquisition.

Learn more: www.tdlandtrust.org

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Twenty-five years ago, a small group of hikers united to protect Coldstream Valley from logging. This humble beginning couldn’t foretell a land trust that would become one of the most effective ones in California.

Founded around John and Elizabeth Eaton’s fireplace, the Truckee Donner Land Trust has since protected 33,000 acres of open space.

“I am proud to be a founding member,” says Elizabeth Eaton. “Planning around the fireplace, we had no idea the things the Land Trust would achieve.”

“Judd Dygert advised me to start a land trust,” added John Eaton. “Knowing nothing about that, after a gasp and a gulp, I called Barbara Green who gave me a lot of information, including the names of Dan Wendin and Ellie Huggins.”

“(The Land Trust) are willing partners to implement conservation strategies and have proven themselves able stewards of lands, with some of their conservation areas serving as models for forest health, fire hazard reduction, and habitat improvement.”Tony LashbrookTruckee Town Manager

The founding board secured its first acquisition, set up a nonprofit, then handed off an organization to new leadership and an unknown future. Martin Bern, board president in 2003, remembers a “visioning” board retreat.

Says Bern, “The board set an aggressive goal to protect an enormous amount of acreage within 10 years, though we all thought it was pie in the sky.”

Bern later realized that the leadership was farsighted; goals from that retreat were surpassed. With the guidance of subsequent boards, dedicated donors and potent partnerships, the little land trust that could became the superstar that gets things done.

EVOLVING INTO A POWERHOUSE

Perry Norris, the Land Trust’s current executive director, eats and breathes saving open space.

Many know that Norris’s passion and knowledge are some of the many talents he possesses in leading the organization through its last 15 years of achievements.

Founding Land Trust member and descendant of a prominent Truckee family, Bill McGlashan adds, “It was beyond imaginable that the Land Trust would evolve from those early efforts into such a powerhouse. We can thank our good fortune that Perry Norris returned to Truckee.”

Norris’s conservation dedication also applies to future generations. When Norris’s son was a youngster, he’d brag: “My dad buys mountains for kids to play on.”

There have been many ribbon cuttings and festivities over the decades, for Schallenberger Ridge, Perazzo Meadows, Waddle Ranch, the Matt Russanoff memorial trail — and for the formation of the Northern Sierra Partnership that brought then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to speak at Donner Lake.

Sugar Bowl also hosted a shindig in 2012 — the Royal Gorge celebration, where 450 people raising glasses, embracing, and grinning ear to ear was a marvel.

PRESERVING HISTORY

Preserving historical lands is one of the Land Trust’s missions, and many acquisitions contain historic sites where people can wonder at California’s early history.

Thousand-year old artifacts from the Martis people were found at Waddle Ranch, also a former encampment for the Washoe Tribe.

Deep-rooted Truckee families such as Waddle and Joerger homesteaded in the Martis Valley, and the Land Trust recently acquired Elizabethtown Meadows, the site of an old mining community in the Valley.

Coldstream Valley was a prevalent emigrant route, and not a soul can pass Donner Lake without witnessing Schallenberger Ridge, named after 18-year old Moses Schallenberger, who spent the winter of 1845-1846 guarding wagons left behind.

We can contemplate his footsteps as well as those of early Native Americans who traveled Donner Summit Canyon where part of the Dutch Flat Wagon Road crosses the hiking trail. The wagon road, emigrant routes, and Indian grinding rocks can also be seen at Royal Gorge.

The Land Trust also has protected areas along Henness Pass road, a once popular stage route.

As part of its work creating contiguous open space in the Sierra Nevada Checkerboard, in 2013, the organization acquired 3,000 acres at Webber Lake, which included the 1860s Webber Lake Hotel, the last standing stage stop on the route from Virginia City to Grass Valley.

ENVIRONMENT & WILDLIFE

Beyond historic and stunning landscapes, the Land Trust protects lands of biological importance such as Perazzo and Lacey Meadows, Independence Lake, Carpenter Ridge, and Johnson, Billy Mack, Donner Summit and Truckee River Canyons, which contribute to the area’s watershed and wildlife habitat.

While each acquisition is weighed for its natural resource values, perhaps the crown jewels in biological acquisitions are Webber Lake/Lacey Meadows and Royal Gorge.

Royal Gorge is home to a mind-boggling array of wildlife. Lacey Meadows is one of the largest sub-alpine meadows in the northern Sierra and is the headwaters of the Little Truckee River.

These types of acquisitions are critical for water preservation, and the Land Trust is currently working to restore degraded meadows at the headwaters for the Yuba and Truckee Rivers.

While visitors thrill at spotting flora and fauna, no doubt the wildlife is celebrating the Land Trust for providing them room to live and roam, including the Truckee-Loyalton deer herd.

The herd travels from the high country to Sierra Valley often passing through some of Truckee’s green belts the Land Trust also conserves.

And, because viewshed protection is important for Truckee’s open spaces, several properties have been conserved specifically to protect green belts, preserving Truckee’s rural character.

COMMUNITY PARTNERS

Truckee’s town manager, Tony Lashbrook, says that part of what makes Truckee special is the access to wilderness from right out the back door, and strategic partnerships with the nimble Land Trust have helped Truckee preserve and enhance these opportunities.

“They are willing partners to implement conservation strategies and have proven themselves able stewards of lands, with some of their conservation areas serving as models for forest health, fire hazard reduction, and habitat improvement,” says Lashbrook.

Due to the organization’s longevity, there’s something for every outdoor enthusiast to enjoy year-round, and they also promote educational programs where kids use the outdoors as a classroom.

Two acquisitions stand out as milestones in the conservation biosphere for their significance and fundraising challenges.

In 2007, 1,500 acres in the Martis Valley were protected after an unprecedented community-wide effort raised $23.5 million.

The Land Trust was put to task again when it raised $11.25 million within five months to protect 3,000 acres at Royal Gorge, writing one of the greatest chapters in California’s conservation history – one that nearly did in the staff.

How do I know? I work at the Land Trust and sprouted some grey hairs during that project.

SILVER ANNIVERSARY

The Land Trust’s board ensures best practices, and the organization is nationally accredited. Other accolades include the Sierra Lighthouse Award, Nonprofit of the Year, and the Zero Dark Thirty Award for relentless pursuits in land protection.

Dan Wendin was executive director during the Schallenberger Ridge acquisition.

“Schallenberger was critical because of its size, it was under threat of logging, and is the backdrop to Donner Lake,” says Wendin.

He notes that Schallenberger was the Land Trust’s first joint effort with The Trust for Public Land (TPL), an organization crucial to ensuing projects.

The Land Trust has been able to conserve big acreage through partnerships with allies such as TPL, NSP, the Wildlife Conservation Board, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy, the USFS, and many others.

“Our 25th Anniversary is also a celebration of the too-numerous-to-list organizations who have been with the Land Trust at every step,” says Anne Chadwick, the current president. “The Land Trust has always been thankful for the unwavering support of those who have contributed to our many conservation pinnacles.”

The following conversation I often have with the boss sums up the tenor of 25 years:

Norris: KV. What are you doing?

Me: Working.

Norris: No you aren’t. You’re saving the Sierra!

K.V. Van Lom is Communications & Administration Director for the Truckee Donner Land Trust. View a full list of the Land Trust’s partners and allies at http://www.tdlandtrust.org.