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High country trails abound at Donner Summit

Laura Petersen
Special to The Union
Schallenberger Ridge flanking Donner Lake as seen from the Donner Lake Rim Trail.
Submitted by Susan Johnson |

It’s not uncommon to find Truckee Donner Land Trust’s Stewardship Director John Svahn running, skiing or mountain biking on local trails.

That’s where you will find many of Svahn’s Truckee friends and neighbors, too.

“I think that’s a prime recreational resource for people,” said Svahn, who like many trail users in his neck of the Sierra Nevada, put a high value on trails as a place to exercise, unwind and connect to nature.

His favorite, Donner Summit Canyon Trail, is the gateway to what some history buffs might argue is the most important square mile in California’s history. Close to the town of Truckee, this six-mile round trip trail with a 1,000 feet elevation gain, loosely follows the old Dutch Flat/Donner Lake Wagon Road which later served as the original Lincoln Highway route.

“We think getting people on the land is important to conservation. We always make a joke that trails and open space go together like peanut butter and jelly.”John SvahnTruckee Donner Land Trust’s Stewardship Director

The trail traverses Donner Summit Creek and offers spectacular views of Donner Lake, Donner Peak and Schallenberger Ridge as it climbs to Donner Summit. From the upper part of the trail, recreationists will see Native American petroglyphs, the China Wall, and the world’s first automobile underpass.

The trail is one of at least 15 Truckee Donner Land Trust (TDLT) trails mapped and described on the conservation group’s website.

Folks who want to plan their recreation trip to the Truckee Donner area can find trails sorted by interest categories and region via the online resource.

Regions include the Little Truckee River watershed, Martis Valley and Donner Summit. People looking for a trail can sort by interests such as: kid friendly, birding, wildflowers, specialty hikes, winter wonderlands, mountain biking, equestrian, dog friendly and easy access.

In 2014, Truckee voters showed their love of outdoor recreation at the polls when they voted for a tax hike that would fund more community trails. Trail construction is not cheap.

It costs an estimated $12,000 to $15,000 to build a mile of trail, and that’s before factoring in permitting or structures such as bridges, rock walls or turnpikes.

Community support for trails translates into a loyal volunteer work force and agency partners that work with TDLT to build an average of one to four miles of new trail and maintain 12 — 15 miles of existing trail each year.

Two new trails are in the works: Perazzo Meadows — following the Little Truckee River and the Royal Gorge Rim Trail.

“We’re busy with trails,” said Svahn.

Several years ago, TDLT acquired the 3,000-acre Royal Gorge property slated for development after a grassroots campaign raised $11.25 million in five months. Now the meadows, peaks, diverse plants and animals, Nordic ski area and miles of trails of Royal Gorge are protected forever.

Nearby, a project near and dear to the hearts of many Land Trust supporters is the Donner Lake Rim Trail. Some day this multi-user trail will traverse 23 miles on mountains and ridges surrounding Donner Lake. To date, more than seven miles have been built, connecting Truckee residents to Donner Summit and the Pacific Crest Trail. This trail and its linkages will play an important role in the proposed Pines to Mines Trail, linking the towns of Truckee and Nevada City.

Trails that provide public access to conserved lands are an important part of TDLT’s mission.

“We think getting people on the land is important to conservation. We always make a joke that trails and open space go together like peanut butter and jelly,” said Svahn.

But it’s a delicate balance when beautiful, fragile ecosystems with endangered plants and sensitive species run the risk of getting loved to death. TDLT makes an effort to build trails that get people to enjoy the outdoors sustainably without negatively impacting the natural resources found there.

Working to protect scenic, historic and recreational lands in the Truckee Donner region, TDLT constantly faces challenges. As the economy turns around Land Trust staff finds themselves in direct competition with interests that have different ideas for the landscape than conservation. As climate change impacts what “normal” snow levels look like, the Land Trust is looking beyond acreage, and more toward elevation. Peaks will become the last wildlife corridor refuges for species needing higher ground.

Getting people on quality trails is key to raising dollars that keep these mountain open spaces protected. In the summer the trails are used by mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians and in winter they become the playground for skiers and fat bike riders.

“I’m hoping we have a big winter. I’m also hoping we see everyone out there,” said Svahn.

Learn more about Truckee Donner Land Trust at: http://www.tdlandtrust.org

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at laurapetersen310@gmail.com or 530-913-3067.


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