Popular trailhead parking could be blocked
The flat space at the mouth of Negro Canyon, which for years has served as an informal parking lot for winter recreationists, may soon become a hub of Caltrans winter operations.
Caltrans has proposed a salt and sand shed for the land at the Donner Lake interchange on Interstate 80 to replace their aging facility on Donner Summit at the Castle Peak exit. The fact that parking would be banned on Caltrans land purchased for the project, however, has local residents who have hiked, skied and snowmobiled in the canyon for years upset that the plan may block the popular trailhead.
Construction of the salt and sand facility, which will be used for Interstate 80 winter operations, is scheduled for 2007.
“Once the (salt and sand facility) is built up it will be pretty much a secure facility and there will not be parking allowed,” said Jan Mendoza, a Caltrans spokeswoman.
Wayne Fischer, president of the North Tahoe Snow Travelers, has written letters of protest to Caltrans because the project, he said, will not only block off Negro Canyon, but also lead to overcrowding at other snowmobiling spots.
“If Caltrans were to close this off to snowmobile launching, it would put pressure on other areas,” said Fischer.
The impact on recreational activities is discussed briefly in Caltrans’ environmental document for the project. The conclusion is that it will have no effect on recreation, since the canyon is not designated a recreation area, and there is no formal parking at the site.
“They are not public lands, so if people have been going through those areas … they are going through private property,” said Caltrans Spokeswoman Shelly Chernicki.
While land at the bottom of the canyon is private, people hike or ski to adjoining Forest Service land from near the highway offramp.
Perry Norris, the executive director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust, whose organization negotiated an option to purchase 280 acres in the canyon because of its value for recreation and wildlife habitat, said the trailhead is one of the most heavily used hiking spots in the area. The construction of a Caltrans building in the canyon will likely spell the end of easy access to the canyon, he said.
“Either they are going to eliminate the recreational use in the canyon, or you are going to create sheer chaos,” said Norris.
The land trust, which attempts to stay out of controversial land use decisions, could not help but write Caltrans to criticize the plan.
“This is a bad idea,” Norris said.
John Eaton, president of Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, said that if parking is blocked at the mouth of the canyon, people may hunt for other places to park, which could become an unforeseen problem.
“The area proposed for the facility is extensively used for parking by recreational users of the area year round, and by construction and maintenance crews for the Donner Rim Trail all summer,” wrote Eaton in a letter to Caltrans. “If the Department acquires the area and forbids parking, these users will have to park elsewhere with unknown, but probably undesirable, environmental consequences.”
Aside from the project’s impact on recreation, Donner Lake residents are worried that the salt and sand shed may increase runoff and hurt the water quality in neighboring Gregory Creek. Caltrans said that their diversion ditches and other construction will assure that the facility protects the neighboring waterways.
Caltrans closed the public comment period on the project on April 15. They are now responding to the letters they have received on the project, which Mendoza said were numerous.
The state agency will now either revise the environmental document and recirculate it for comments, or finalize the report and begin acquiring the land and funding it needs for the project.
The salt and sand shed on Donner Summit, which will be replaced by this new facility, is slated to be dismantled. That process will require its own environmental review.