State parks department rethinks Donner museum
The state parks department has clearance to build a highly controversial museum on the eastern end of Donner Lake ” but that does not mean the museum is a sure bet, one park official said.
Mounting opposition to the 10,000-square-foot project has convinced the agency to reconsider, even as the project cleared the final environmental hurdle. Officials say the decision on the museum’s future will come later this week.
If the museum does not go ahead as proposed, the parks department will either build nothing or renovate and reconstruct the existing museum, said Hayden Sohm, Superintendent for the Sierra District of the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
“They’ve adopted the (Environmental Impact Report) but the decision of where the building will actually be has not been determined yet,” Sohm said. “Just because the final EIR was filed does not mean the new museum will be built at the lake.”
The prospect of a new museum within 175 feet of the east shore of Donner Lake brought little discussion when it was aired to the public. But in the final weeks of the environmental process, opposition piled up fast. The day before the public input period was scheduled to close, the Town of Truckee weighed in, asking the parks department to consider building a new museum on the current museum location.
The museum project would cost more than $6 million, most of which would be financed by federal highway funds, and add more than 70 parking spaces and a second entrance to the park.
The state parks department had settled on the lakeside location after land negotiations for a museum on the A. Teichert and Sons property in Coldstream Canyon fell through, and a plan for the museum going in between the two campsites in Donner Memorial State Park was discarded because it would conflict with campsites and was too far from Donner Pass Road
Marcy Dolan said she knew there were a lot of people around town who had not bothered to write a letter opposing the museum plans. So in the two weeks before the public comment period was slated to close, she gathered approximately 750 signatures on a petition opposing the new museum.
“This is about saving a beach,” Dolan said. “I would hate to lose that beach.”
In her eyes the right decision for that swath of land is to leave it undeveloped.
“It is about people being passionate about where they live and wanting to protect it,” Dolan said. “I don’t think that they understand the extent to which Truckee residents use the park.”
A glance through the reams of comment letters that have reached the state parks department on the museum plans shows that Truckee residents are not the only ones concerned about Donner Memorial State Park’s future. Letters came in from Washington, Colorado and across California. From fifth-grade students to real estate agents, the opposition to the project is strong. Some have passionately argued that the new building would destroy a beautiful wooded setting.
Mountain Area Preservation Foundation President John Eaton wrote several letters to the state parks department, urging the department to come up with another location away from the shoreline.
“That, to me, would solve a lot of problems,” Eaton said.
But it is not just the environmental impacts of building so close to the shoreline that worries people. Others are concerned that a second entrance off of Donner Pass Road, coupled with bike and pedestrian traffic, could cause a safety hazard.
“The safety issue is a very prime concern to me,” said Truckee town councilwoman Barbara Green.
The outcry over the museum has caught the attention of California Sen. Dave Cox. Cox will be attending the state parks meetings that will decide the fate of the museum and he will advocate that neighboring residents concerns be taken seriously.
“We believe that the issues that were raised are adequate and strong and we want to see what kind of assistance we can give on this matter,” said Peter DeMarco, spokesman for Cox.
Building a new museum at a different location “just doesn’t make sense to us,” said DeMarco.
The state parks department will meet on Thursday in Sacramento to discuss the museum plans. They are scheduled to make a decision on whether to go ahead with the lakefront museum at that meeting.
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