Alex, pt. 1
The impending purchase of Truckee Springs by the Truckee Donner Land Trust seems like a no-brainer ultimate fate for the piece of land — after all, we’re talking 26.33 acres of riverside meadow and forested land that’s been privately owned for decades sitting just south of downtown Truckee.
But the road to public land has been a winding one.
I’m Alex Hoeft, here with the latest edition of Moonshine Minutes. Joining me is Greyson Howard, communications director for the land trust.
Greyson, pt. 2
Hey everyone. To give listeners a bit of background, we at the Truckee Donner Land Trust plan to make the land a publicly accessible park, connecting park goers to downtown Truckee via a future pedestrian bridge over the Truckee River and patching a missing link of the Legacy Trail from Glenshire Drive to Donner Lake.
Over the years, development had its chance with the parcel, but nothing happened. The park is an opportunity for residents and visitors alike to better connect with nature.
Perry Norris, executive director of the land trust said, [quote] I’m absolutely astonished that in 2020 we’re able to purchase this thing as open space. I don’t know why it never got built … This is a conspicuous piece of property, it’s not hidden behind any piece of ridge. It’s right in your face downtown and everybody knows it. It is incredible for the past 40 years the thing’s just kind of been vacant. [end quote]
It’s been on our radar for 20 of those years. That’s how a lot of our deals work: They start out as a ‘wouldn’t it be neat if’ or a dream that kind of seems impossible, then 10 or 20 years later the opportunity arises, the stars align, and the deal can be made.
Alex, pt. 3
This swath of land has experienced a dramatic history since non-natives first stumbled upon the Truckee area. Plenty of industrialization, attempts at development, and even the early days of Truckee’s tourism industry are tied to the parcel.
But first, I’ll take you back to the beginning, until about 1844.
Truckee as a whole is the ancestral land of the Washoe Tribe — specifically the Northern Washoe people, known as the Welmelti in their native language. Once white Euro-American people began crossing the Sierra Nevada in 1844, the Northern Washoe people still utilized the area, working on farms and ranches around Truckee, but it was short-lived.
Darrel Cruz, tribal historic preservation officer for the Washoe Tribe, told Moonshine: [quote] We were forced to move somewhere once all the lands became occupied. First thing they did is put up fences, we can no longer go to places. We had to move on. We never really freely left the place — it was more or less the conditions that necessitated we move out there. [end quote]
The Truckee Springs parcel specifically, Cruz continued, is important to the tribe because it represents their cultural affiliation to the area; it’s something that is important to the Washoe people still. Enough so that the Truckee Donner Land Trust reached out to the Washoe Tribe with the idea for preserving the area and adding a bike path to pass through.
Cruz said the Washoe Tribe supports the project. [quote] We support it because it’s going to maintain the integrity of the open space. [end quote]
Greyson, pt. 4
Truckee Springs saw its first constructed building in 1866 when George Schaffer — one of Truckee’s original settlers — built a sawmill on the parcel.
There’s no official transfer of land ownership from Schaffer to the Truckee Lumber Company, the next owner of the land — at least not that Chaun Mortier, treasurer for the Truckee-Donner Historical Society, has seen — but it is likely to have happened, she said.
The company built a lumber yard on the land in 1873, connected to a water-powered mill on the north side of the Truckee River by an elevated tramway. Flumes, incinerators, and trestles were also constructed.
At least part of the Truckee Lumber Company’s work on Truckee Springs included milling lodgepole pine to ship fruit grown in Sacramento. As was the case across the country during this time period, rivers were industrial tools.
With the creation of the transcontinental railroad, suddenly the breadbasket of the central valley was accessible to the rest of the country, so they needed boxes to package the fruit along with ice that was mined from the Boca ice dam and others for keeping produce fresh to send California produce across the country.
The lumber company ceased Truckee operations in 1909 and moved to Oroville. Mortier of the historical society explained the reason for this relocation: [quote] I would say by 1909 it was getting very difficult and expensive to get wood into Truckee as they had to go further and further out to establish logging camps. [end quote]
Alex, pt. 5
Efforts for tourism in Truckee began at the end of the 19th century, led in part by C.F. McGlashan (a Truckee Renaissance man). The historical society notes that the slope below Hilltop in Truckee, where Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar now sits, was often used for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding, but McGlashan amplified the uses by establishing the Great Truckee Winter Carnival in 1909.
On the Truckee Springs portion of land, McGlashan built an ice palace in 1913 to house an ice skating rink, a dance hall, and several rooms, as well as serve as the end point of toboggan runs. At this point in time, Mortier says it’s likely Truckee Springs was owned by Kruger Real Estate Company, but there’s no paper trail.
The ice palace (ironically built out of wood) burned down on June 20, 1915, though the ice skating pond remained and is even considered an important archaeological resource today.
Mortier wrote in an email [quote] [The historical society] is being given the 2 acres that the historical foundation is on that was the ice palace and is now a pond. That will happen in the near future. The rest of the land is being purchased by the land trust. [end quote]
Greyson, pt. 6
After the ice palace burned down in 1915, Truckee local Wally Gelatt was inspired to turn the parcel into a tent city in an effort to push Truckee tourism beyond its wintertime wonderland.
A May 18, 1916 Truckee Republican article read, [quote] Before summer is over, Mr. Gelatt will have demonstrated that Truckee can easily take her own with the largest summer resorts in the mountains. Truckee is the logical poor man’s camping grounds. After he has his family comfortably [domiciled] for the summer he can come up from San Francisco on Saturday night, spend Sunday with them and leave on Sunday night and be back to work Monday morning. [end quote]
The Truckee-Donner Historical Society isn’t sure how long the tent city lasted, but the impending World War I likely played a role in its disbanding.
Alex, pt. 7
It’s not known by the Town of Truckee nor the current Truckee Springs land developer consultant who exactly the Bright family purchased the property from, but in 1980, a sale took place and the Bright name would come to reign over the parcel for the next 40 years.
Ron West, consultant for the Brights, was there at the beginning, offering insight to the family on purchasing additional pieces of land to complete the package.
In 2006, Lyn Bright inherited the property when his father passed away. He and his two siblings sat down to divvy up the different family properties, but West said Bright wanted Truckee from the beginning.
Bright and West were college buddies back in the day, and spent the next 15ish years trying to find a buyer for the property. While West said he’s thrilled that the land will be used as a park, and that [quote] the very best that could’ve happened, happened [end quote], some of the developments that were initially proposed had sounded good to him at the time.
West said, [quote] Some of them would’ve really benefited those living and working right downtown. I was disappointed we weren’t able to work with the town better in some ways to get some discussion. I’ve worked as a planner for 45 years … some cities and counties are harder to work with than others, each one is its own place. [end quote]
Greyson, pt. 8
With housing an ever-hot topic in the region, a shiny riverfront chunk of land didn’t escape the umbrella of planning out an expanding town.
When Truckee first incorporated in 1993, its first few years revolved around the creation of the general plan and downtown specific plan, said Tony Lashbrook, who served as the town’s community development director from 1994 to 2005, then as town manager until 2017.
[Quote] There was a lot of public involvement. More public involvement in the downtown specific plan than any planning process the town has undertaken, including to-date in my opinion. People were really fired up to be in charge of their own destiny. [end quote]
The Truckee Springs property, Lashbrook continued, was initially zoned as multi-family and intended for a mobile home park. Single-family residences and lodging developments were eventually permitted zoning-wise as well.
[quote] None of them, in my opinion, [were] particularly serious or ready to build. They pursued, but none of it really happened as you obviously can see. [end quote]
Alex, pt. 9
The final hand-off of the Bright property is expected to take place June 2021, from the current owner to the land trust to a tune of $6 million (plus an additional $4 million to purchase park amenities and build the river-spanning bridge and Legacy Trail connection). Money is still being raised for this project.
The land trust has already raised roughly 40% of the $10 million total goal in donations, grants, and public-sector commitments. They are looking for another $6 million in private and public funding to purchase the property and amenities just listed, along with funds for ongoing stewardship of the land.
Not only is the parcel’s fate a happily-ever-after tale for most parties involved, it also spells the final chapter of the Our Truckee River Legacy Foundation, born in the late 90s.
Brent Collinson, former president of the Rotary Club of Truckee, said, [quote] Frank Bulkley [Rotary president from 1999 to 2000] said, ‘The white man has messed up the river for 100 years. It may take us 100 years to get it back, but let’s get started on it.’ … The main thing we wanted to do was try to get more public access to the river. That’s why we have the trail. [end quote]
Over 20 years later, three of the Truckee River Legacy Trail’s five phases are complete. Phase four will be satisfied by the land trust’s project; phase five will be completed through the Elements at Coldstream project, bringing the trail all the way to Donner Lake.
Remaining funds of $150,000 will go toward the land trust’s acquisition of the parcel and the long-term maintenance of the trail.
Even with the camaraderie, it’s not a completely perfect project for Mitch Clarin, both neighbor to the project and a member of the foundation. The positives certainly outweigh the negatives, sure, Clarin said: a park system at the end of his street, a connection of trail systems, a pedestrian bridge that’ll lead to downtown, and absence of a brick and mortar development. But there is a negative Clarin sees — an increase in traffic along South River Street.
[quote] There’s a 30-spot parking lot going in on Truckee Springs at the foot of the bridge. That’s going to encourage people to drive down South River Street to park at that side of the bridge. [end quote]
The land trust said the number of parking spots hasn’t been finalized, but the lot has been pushed further into the 26 acres and away from South River Street to minimize impact.
Of all the potential developments that could have filled the space beyond the current cul-de-sac, Clarin said a park is [quote] by far the best use of the property that anybody could come up with. [end quote]
Greyson, pt. 10
If history is known to repeat itself, the ballad of the Truckee Springs land seems to be coming back around. After its beginning as a mostly-untouched home to the Northern Washoe people, through the ups and downs of industrial uses, to the numerous development options, Truckee Springs’ fate is settling back to what it was initially: a riverfront piece of land for people to enjoy.
Preservation is critical to the Truckee Donner Land Trust’s work, but we also have a strong public access component because we think the next generation of stewards is born by hiking on the land or biking on the land or swimming in the river — whatever it is. The real visceral connection is important.
Alex, pt. 11
Find the full story, Truckee Springs Eternal, on Moonshine’s website.
Major thanks to Greyson again for joining me to tell this tale. You can find out more about the Truckee Springs project at truckeedonnerlandtrust.org.