Imagine owning almost 30 miles of Tahoe’s East Shore, including the land upon which Incline Village now sits. This was the story of a man born into Gold Rush wealth. Born in 1881, George Whittell Jr. was an adventurous and intriguing character who loved fast cars and boats, wild animals (including a pet elephant), and high-stakes gambling. He picked up the East Shore property for cheap in the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crisis. (Interestingly, some believe he contributed to the crisis by liquidating $50 million in stock holdings just before the crash.)

Though he originally purchased the East Shore property in order to develop it, he instead decided it was the perfect place to create his own private haven — the majestic Thunderbird Lodge surrounded by pristine alpine magnificence.

Late in his life Whittell was forced by the State of Nevada to turn over large tracts of the land to the public. This then formed the first pieces of Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. Today, more than a million visitors enjoy the park annually.


It’s ironic that one man’s development plans morphed into the preservation of a huge swath of incredible land valued and utilized by the public at large.

The Truckee Donner Land Trust was formed 22 years ago by a small group of passionate citizens who wanted to protect Coldstream Valley from logging plans. A $150,000 purchase of 160 acres in the valley was just the first step in the trust’s journey to preserve 25,000 acres in the Tahoe/Truckee region, with plans to preserve another 24,500. Here again, a plan to utilize land for commercial purposes led to its preservation.

Anyone who has spent time soaking in the views on Tahoe’s East Shore or reveling in the silence under Coldstream Valley trees understands the tremendous value in these public lands.

If the land trust can raise enough funds by December, another large piece of local land will fall into public hands — the 3,000-acre Royal Gorge property on Donner Summit, see related content. What was the impetus for the preservation? Development plans, of course.

Today it’s almost unimaginable to think of Tahoe’s East Shore being populated by hundreds of homes, which would have closed a loop of almost continuous development around Lake Tahoe. Years from now, residents will likely look at Royal Gorge the same way — as a magnificent natural landscape open for all to enjoy.

The lesson here is not that the public is always the best steward for land. Case in point is the scandalous revelation that California’s state park department was hiding $54 million while scheduling 70 state parks for closure.

I think the lesson here is that we each have the power to gaze into the future, imagine a bend in the inevitable, and make it happen.

Paying attention is the first step.

~ Mayumi Elegado


  • Mayumi Peacock

    Hailing from a U.S. military family and a graduate of the University of Florida, Mayumi Peacock has lived in several corners of the country and globe, yet Tahoe/Truckee has been her home since 1999. She is founder and publisher of Moonshine Ink, the region’s award-winning independent newspaper, which continues to be created by, for, and of the community. Other passions include family, animals, books, healthy living, and humane food.

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