Van Norden Meadow restoration set to begin this summer
The Van Norden Meadow Restoration Project has been a collaborative effort since 2012 from various organizations such as the South Yuba River Citizens League, Donner Land Trust, Tahoe National Forest – and many other donors.
This particular meadow happens to be at the headwaters of the Yuba River, making it an ecologically valuable resource to the area. The primary goal of this project is to bring back the natural streams and floodplains to the Van Norden Meadow, as well as provide recreation to the community.
Greyson Howard, communications director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust, said that ownership of the Van Norden Meadow was recently passed from the land trust over to the Forest Service after first purchasing the property as part of the 2012 Royal Gorge Acquisition — which was around 3,000 acres of land.
“We’ve worked with South Yuba River Citizens League throughout the process, because the property is the headwaters of the South Fork Yuba River,” Howard said. “We’re excited about the restoration project and to see what they do with it. It’s something that goes along with our original intent in purchasing the property and preserving it.”
Van Norden Meadow, originally referred to by the Washoe Tribe as Yayalu Ipbeh, was a place of gathering and trading for the tribe and was also used in early settlement.
“It is thought that a section of the original wagon trail goes either adjacent to or through Van Norden Meadow,” said Alecia Weisman, who manages the project through the South Yuba River Citizens League.
“(The Washoe Tribe) is integral in our restoration process — we toured Van Norden Meadow a few weeks ago with the Washoe Tribe and an archaeologist to go over restoration designs that are close to sensitive Washoe sites. So we seek their guidance every step along the way, we’re avoiding all sensitive sites and working with the Washoe to determine appropriate action throughout the restoration process.”
Rachel Hutchinson, Eastside Watershed program manager of the U.S. Forest Service, said when the area became colonized there were many changes made. Such changes included damming of the meadow, which created Van Norden Lake. The lake has since been notched and was originally intended for ice production.
“There was no lake there until it was (dammed) in the 1800s, before it was a meadow. The lake was man-made.” said Hutchinson.
In a collaborative study spearheaded by Cody Reed at the University of Nevada in Reno, it was found that meadows store six times the amount of carbon compared to adjacent forests — which makes the meadow a viable asset in combating climate change in the area, according to Hutchinson. She believes that the effects of climate change, which include longer droughts and higher temperatures, would cause higher rates of rainfall instead of snow at lower elevations, quickly melting snow at higher elevations, and higher rates of water evaporation — thus causing water loss. Hutchinson said these components bring some urgency to the project in terms of water retention in the area due to the fact that the underground reservoir in the meadow would not be as susceptible to evaporation.
“Because it’s so large, it’s able to absorb a lot of water and it holds that water until later into the season.” said Hutchinson.
Hutchinson also added the importance of refuge for wildlife in the face of climate change.
“When we have these really big fires, meadows and streams are often the only places that don’t really burn, and they become really important after a fire in providing habitat and water for wildlife.”
The meadow provides a high elevation refuge for species that thrive in the habitat.
“One of the things we’ve been monitoring are the bird species that are in Van Norden. During the last drought the bird species were able to use the meadow as a refuge during the drought. What we’re hoping is that by restoring it we’re going to bolster ability to provide that refuge and enable species that might be at risk because of climate change to use that habitat.”
Another element of the project is to formalize a trail that’s already existing across the meadow and to allow people to access the meadow with interpretive signage. The restored area will be a place for bird watching, fishing, and a connector between trail networks to the north and south of the meadow.
The South Yuba River Citizens League is currently seeking funding sources to fill a gap needed for phase one. Recently SYRCL received $400,000 from the Martis Fund, which will go toward funding archaeology, the California Environmental Quality Act, and the implementation of phase one. Weisman said that the project is settling in on its final design, on track with its environmental processes, and hopes to implement the first phase by June.
Weisman said that she expects the bulk of the work to be completed in the first two phases, with small residual work between the summers of 2024 and 2025.
“An average meadow can take about five years to complete, but Van Norden has its own unique set of challenges due to infrastructural constraints — a variety of landowners, rich cultural history — so a significant amount of time is needed to complete this project.” said Weisman.
Weisman is scheduling a tour of the meadow at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 29. Those interesting in signing up can do so by emailing Alecia Weisman at email@example.com.
Elizabeth White is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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