The Campaign to Conserve Lower Carpenter Valley

We are thrilled to announce the successful conclusion of our two-year, $10.3 million campaign to conserve Lower Carpenter Valley, one of the most spectacular and pristine mountain meadows in the Sierra Nevada. To top it all off, the San Jose Mercury News featured our story in a front page article, which you can read ‎here.

Thanks to critical financial support from the Wildlife Conservation Board, the California Natural Resources Agency, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and 230 very generous private donors, the Truckee Donner Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy and the Northern Sierra Partnership were able to complete the campaign. In total, 1,317 acres were conserved in and adjacent to Lower Carpenter Valley. 637 acres of property immediately south of the valley have been protected with a conservation easement and transferred to the Tahoe Donner Association for public recreation and enjoyment. The remaining 680 acres of land that make up Lower Carpenter Valley will be owned by the Truckee Donner Land Trust and managed in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy.

History of the Valley

Lower Carpenter Valley has survived the passage of time, intact and splendid. The Washoe were probably the first humans to visit the valley during their seasonal travels to and from Lake Tahoe. The ill-fated Donner Party spent much of the winter of 1846–7 camped nearby, and later the valley was settled by dairyman William Carpenter and his wife, Julia, who migrated up from the Central Valley every summer to graze stock in its lush meadows. In the mid-20th century, a small group of fishing aficionados bought the property and enjoyed it as a private retreat. Notwithstanding its fascinating history, until recently few people even knew of Lower Carpenter Valley’s existence, secluded behind a closed gate at the end of a long dirt road. Thankfully, its owners stewarded the property with care and, when the time was right, worked to ensure its conservation.

An Ecological Refuge

Lower Carpenter Valley is one of the most important mountain meadows in the northern Sierra Nevada. First identified as a priority for conservation in The Nature Conservancy’s Sierra Nevada Ecoregional Assessment (1999), Lower Carpenter Valley is well known among wildlife biologists as a hot spot of natural diversity. The valley’s high water table, extensive mosaic of willows, and wet meadows provide excellent nesting habitat for the threatened willow flycatcher. Bird surveys have repeatedly documented their nests on the property. The landscape also supports a wealth of other bird and animal species, from northern goshawk to bald eagle, mule deer, mountain lion, and black bear.

Natural springs, seeps, and fens along the north edge of Lower Carpenter Valley augment flows into Prosser Creek year-round, creating cascading gardens of native flora: Sierra lily, shooting star, wild rose, rein orchid, corn lily, monkey flower, and larkspur, among many other species.

Water and Aquatic Resources

Lower Carpenter Valley’s size and healthy ecology are a boon for water resources as well as for wildlife. California’s Water Action Plan identifies the protection of mountain meadows and headwater valleys like Lower Carpenter Valley as key to providing safe, reliable water supplies to downstream users. The North Fork of Prosser Creek runs through the valley after descending from Warren Lake and the flanks of Castle Peak. The creek is an important tributary of the Truckee River, the primary source of drinking water for the rapidly growing population of northern Nevada.

The deep, spongy soils of Lower Carpenter Valley sustain important habitat in Prosser Creek and the Truckee River by capturing and holding spring runoff and releasing clean, cold water back into the river system throughout the summer. State officials have identified the North Fork of Prosser Creek as a potential recovery site for native Lahontan cutthroat trout. These federally threatened fish have been documented in the creek as recently as the late eighties and may still be present.

A Place to Explore and Enjoy

In addition to protecting the outstanding ecological values of the eastern side of Lower Carpenter Valley, the partners intend to create new ways for the public to explore and enjoy the property in all seasons. To that end, we plan to build a new trail, a bridge, and two picnic areas around the edge of the meadow so visitors can appreciate a significant portion of Lower Carpenter Valley from different vantage points. In addition, we will install split-rail fencing, boardwalks and interpretive signs to protect the sensitive meadow from trampling and help visitors appreciate the unique ecology of Lower Carpenter Valley. As part of our vision for year-round use, we hope to build a backcountry hut that will allow visitors (by advanced reservation) to enjoy the valley in winter. The hut will be the first in a new network of backcountry huts we hope to create between Castle Peak and Webber Lake to facilitate winter access to this little known but spectacular part of the Sierra Nevada.

Planning Your Visit

Because of its sensitive habitat, the lower valley will be open initially for guided visits only. Once the Truckee Donner Land Trust has built a parking area, trails, and interpretative signs, the property will be open for day use on a year-round basis. To schedule your visit into Lower Carpenter Valley, please go to ‎TDLT’s website. We look forward to seeing you!