An Opportunity on Donner Summit
The 3,000-acre Royal Gorge property, which straddles the Sierra Crest at Donner Summit, has it all—sharp granite peaks, lush mountain meadows, old growth forests, crystal clear streams, and a rich human history. This scenic, ecological and cultural richness has drawn generations of admirers, artists and outdoor enthusiasts from world over, and made Donner Summit one of the most iconic destinations in the entire Sierra Nevada. The Truckee Donner Land Trust and the Trust for Public Land – working together as part of the Northern Sierra Partnership – acquired the property in December 2012.
Donner Summit has served as a critical gateway across the Sierra Nevada for much of the last three centuries. Even before the arrival of explorers, immigrants and gold-seekers in the mid-19th century, Native Americans used 7,200-foot Donner Pass as a travel corridor and place to meet and trade goods. The first wagon train to cross the Sierra Nevada and the first railroad to cross the continent both traversed the Sierra at Donner Pass. Train travel brought new visitors to the Sierra, both summer and winter.
As early as 1932, alpine enthusiasts started taking the ‘Snowball Special’ train from the San Francisco Bay Area to ski at Donner Summit. In 1939, Sugar Bowl became the site of the first chair lift in California. In the 1970s, Donner Summit became home to the largest cross-country ski resort in North America, Royal Gorge. Today, Royal Gorge is a Nordic skier’s paradise, with an extensive and challenging network of trails to explore, and unparalleled scenery in every direction.
Conservation of Royal Gorge
In 2005, two developers purchased Royal Gorge and proposed to build a 950-unit subdivision. The proposal met with strong opposition. Over the last year, conservationists and community groups worked together to acquire and permanently protect the property. In addition to its extraordinary historic, scenic and recreational values, Royal Gorge is a top priority for biodiversity conservation. Van Norden Meadow, one of the largest sub-alpine meadows north of Yosemite National Park, supports an abundance of wildlife including 115 species of butterflies, 16 species of amphibians, 20 species of mammals, and at least 100 species of birds. The conservation of Royal Gorge was also critical to re-establishing a corridor of protected land across the Northern Sierra Crest that safeguards the headwaters of the American, Truckee and Yuba rivers and allows for wildlife movement and recreational enjoyment throughout this once-fragmented landscape.
Stewardship and Recreation
Looking forward, we see opportunities to enhance recreation at Royal Gorge by expanding and improving trails, signage, huts and other facilities for winter and summer uses. We envision a network of trails that not only gives visitors access to the remarkable scenic and natural diversity of Royal Gorge, but also links Royal Gorge to the extraordinary recreational assets of the Northern Sierra Crest including the Pacific Crest Trail, the Western States Trail, and the Emigrant Trail, among others.
The Truckee Donner Land Trust is currently soliciting public input in a series of community meetings. To learn more about this process and participate in it, visit www.royalgorgeoutreach.org.