Land Trust moves to conserve Negro Canyon
The Truckee Donner Land Trust signed an option to acquire 280 acres of Negro Canyon, a slope with environmental and recreational importance strategically located between Donner Lake and the Tahoe Donner subdivision.
The option gives the land trust three years to raise the funds to purchase the property that, along with an adjoining 422-acre parcel, could otherwise house a 38-unit planned development and nearly 10 acres of roads.
Although technically outside of Truckee town limits, the Nevada County property is within the Town of Truckee’s sphere of influence and is important to the town because of its scenic ridgeline, wildlife and recreational opportunities, said Perry Norris, Truckee Donner Land Trust executive director. The canyon is also an important link to the Castle Peak and Donner Summit recreation areas. Preserving the canyon, town officials said, will prevent sprawl development at the edge of Truckee town limits.
“Negro Canyon is well on its way to being permanently preserved as public open space,” Norris said in a release. “The canyon’s abundant wildlife is also safer from the threat of future development.”
The canyon serves as a migratory route for the Loyalton deer herd and its trees provide habitat for at least four protected bird species. Bears, coyotes and porcupines also live on the land that is split by Gregory Creek, which runs into Donner Lake, according to Norris.
“The amount of acreage of roads that would have accompanied development would have had a big impact [on Gregory Creek],” Norris said.
Norris said the Negro Canyon project is a “perfect fit” for the Land Trust. He noted the scenic viewshed, recreational importance and historical significance of the property.
“Pretty much as a project goes, this was a no-brainer,” he said.
In keeping with its philosophy of making land open to public access, the Land Trust hopes that the site’s easy access off Interstate 80 at the Donner Lake exit will prompt hikers, bikers and skiers to enjoy the area, Norris said.
The Donner Lake Rim Trail, which is still being completed, cuts through the canyon and will attract outdoor enthusiasts to the site.
The Truckee Donner Land Trust was founded in 1990, and has more than 1,000 members. The trust has preserved 3,300 acres, Norris said, and is entering a period in which it plans to acquire almost 15,000 more acres. While other groups buy conservation easements on property to prevent development, Norris said his organization almost exclusively buys land to make it available for public recreation.
“We have the good fortune that the conservation tool we most often use is fee title acquisition,” said Norris, who noted that the Truckee area still has large tracks of undeveloped land.
The Land Trust is actively pursuing $10 million in land acquisition, including the other 422 acres in Negro Canyon, in what Norris said the group sees as a fleeting opportunity to conserve land before property values rise to a level that prohibits the purchase of large tracks of open space.
Negro Canyon: What’s in a name?
Negro Canyon has a storied history, and many speculate that it is named after Albert Johnson, one of the first in a stream of African Americans that traveled west during the Gold Rush.
Johnson, who reportedly came to the area in 1878, settled on Donner Lake at Gregory Creek. He cooked and rented cabins on the lake until his death, at age 94, in 1911. The name Negro Canyon first appeared in official documents almost 45 years later in 1955.
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