New Donner museum plans in the works
November 1, 2005
California State Parks officials are resurrecting plans for a new museum at Donner Memorial State Park, but the latest version has been tailored to avoid the public outcry that stopped the original new proposal last spring.While state officials have not officially unveiled their new plans for the High Sierra Crossings Museum, the idea is to locate the new building between the existing museum and Donner Pass Road, said Hayden Sohm, superintendent for the Sierra district of California State Parks. That location would allow the building to be serviced by the existing road into the park and would set it back from Donner Lake’s shore, which would deal with the two aspects of the original project that drew the most criticism from the public, Sohm said.”We’re looking forward to engaging the public,” he said. “I think we’ve all profited from our past mistakes.”Sohm’s reference to “past mistakes” was a clear allusion to the original $6-million, 10,000-square-foot museum proposal. The design of the glass-fronted building was meant to extend near the edge of Donner Lake’s secluded eastern beach.
But after meetings packed with Truckee residents who frequent the beach – often referred to as “dog beach” by locals – state parks officials heard loud and clear that users of the park wanted the undeveloped eastern shoreline of the lake to remain that way.Truckee officials and California Senator Dave Cox added their voices of opposition, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation dropped the unpopular proposal at the end of May.But Truckee officials knew that state officials had not dropped the idea of a new museum entirely, and asked the state department to look at the site in between the current museum and Donner Pass Road.Donner Lake resident Bill Owens said that if the new plans utilize the existing parking lot and road entrance and calls for a museum set back from the shoreline, it is a vast improvement over the initial museum plans.”It was the 250 trees that they were planning on removing and the huge parking lot that I was concerned about,” Owens said.
During the next phase of planning for the museum he said he hopes state park officials make an effort to leave the eastern shore of the lake much like the way it is today.”I’ve used the park for 25 years,” said Owens. “[The eastern shore of the lake] is one of the few areas that doesn’t have barbecue pits or that you can’t drive right up to.”Owens said he believes the state department made the right decision by dropping the lakefront museum proposal.”I don’t care who you are, I don’t know many people who want a huge parking lot and building on that semi-pristine section of the lake,” Owens said.
John Eaton, president of Truckee’s Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, agreed that getting the museum away from the lake’s shore is a good idea.”Even if it is visible from Donner Pass Road that is better than it being visible from the entire lake,” Eaton said.Eaton said he realizes the current museum is “small and out of date,” but added that he hopes that state parks makes sure that historical artifacts in the area are preserved if the new museum goes in and that views are protected as much as possible, he said.Parks officials plan on holding public meetings informing the public about the new museum proposal in December, Sohm said. They also plan to present the Truckee Town Council with specific information on the museum at a council meeting in December.Meanwhile, state parks has conducted traffic surveys and studies around the proposed museum location. Archeological studies are planned for next spring, Sohm said.