Parks or private? Coldstream Canyon future debated
October 18, 2001
(Editor’s note: Part one of this story, on land owner access into Coldstream Canyon, ran in last week’s Sierra Sun.)
With Coldstream Road providing the primary access into and out of Coldstream Canyon, ownership and control of it may well determine future uses of the canyon itself.
While larger commercial operations in the canyon, including those of Sierra Pacific Industries, Union Pacific Railroad and until recently, Croman Timber Corp., occur with little opposition, the State of California Parks and Recreation Department has indicated they may oppose future commercial endeavors by a number of smaller landowners in Coldstream Canyon who want to operate near park lands.
Ironically, it was the largest of all the commercial activities ever proposed for Coldstream Canyon that led to its preservation and the expansion of Donner Memorial State Park into the area.
In 1982, a ski resort that would have been the largest in North America – three times bigger than Squaw Valley Ski Resort was at the time – was proposed by Sunstone International, LTD. Walter Harvey, who still owns 26 acres in Coldstream, was president of the company that was proposing to build the Sunstream Ski Area.
Encompassing up to 12,000 acres (5,000 skiable) on land owned by Sunstone and leased from other landowners in the canyon, the behemoth resort would have also included a tennis ‘ranch’ with 20 courts, an equestrian facility and a tourist-oriented western railroad town built around an Amtrak stop.
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But instead of opening, as planned, in the winter of 1984-85, Sunstone lapsed into foreclosure before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 1984.
Out of bankruptcy proceedings, Walter B. Hewlett, son of William Hewlett, a co-founder of Hewlett-Packard Co., bought 520 acres of land previously owned by Sunstone “to halt permanently all plans for commercial and ski development.”
Hewlett then donated the land to the Nature Conservancy provided it would never be used for commercial skiing.
The conservancy subsequently donated the land to state parks in the early 1990s with a grant deed stipulating it be used for “state park purposes” only.
Coupled with a series of recent acquisitions by the Trust for Public Land and the Truckee Donner Land Trust – including more than 2,000 acres bought from Croman Timber Corp., an Oregon logging company looking to pull out of California – that will ultimately be incorporated into Donner Memorial State Park when funding becomes available, the state park is now one of the largest landowners in the Coldstream Canyon.
“The support for (park expansion) is overwhelming. Residents, part-time residents and visitors see it as a campaign to keep part of what we cherish,” said Perry Norris, executive director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust.
Norris cited increasing land trust membership and the willingness of citizens to donate money towards the land acquisitions as evidence of the public’s support for preservation of the area and a larger state park.
“The land trust has over 1,450 members, all supportive of this acquisition. (And) we’ve received scores of unsolicited donations from supporters who’ve read about the park expansion,” he said. “We think a bigger state park offers the public an incredible array of recreational opportunities. (But) the last thing we want to do is appear against property owners or property rights.”
But a handful of property owners in the canyon are concerned that state parks may object to future commercial activities on their land and try to restrict those operations by controlling the use of Coldstream Road through park lands.
“Whatever that property is zoned for, (property owners) can use the road for – that’s my contention. But I have a strong feeling (state parks) will argue that,” said Walter Edberg, who manages 10 acres near Horseshoe Bend. The land is zoned residential forestry which allows for a variety of commercial uses with a permit.
Edberg and Pat Davison, field director of the California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners, a property rights advocacy group that has worked with some of the landowners in Coldstream, said state parks opposition to the subdivision of a 56-acre parcel owned by Larry Hahn and their stated opposition to a commercial water facility proposed by Harvey are indications of their belief that any increased use, commercial or otherwise, is deemed a problem.
State Parks and Recreation Sierra District Superintendent John Knott said state parks is also “very interested in working with the Coldstream Property owners,” and is eager to resolve any disputes regarding access and use of the area. Knott said state parks has acknowledged “the property rights of our neighbors to use the roads through Coldstream Canyon for uses that have been historically established or currently exist.”
While the park did file comments with Placer County opposing Hahn’s lot split and Harvey’s water business, Knott said the park does not interfere with a snowmobile business currently run by Hahn.
He said the park’s position relative to future commercial operations would be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the type of activity and “if it negatively impacts on the natural, cultural and recreational values that the park was established to promote.”
“Ultimately, Placer County decides what is appropriate,” Knott said. “But a lot of people forget that (state parks) is also a property owner and we have the same rights that everyone else has. As adjacent property owners, we have the right to comment.”