A Step Out of Time

By Whip Villarreal, Photo by Bill Stevenson
The Secret Garden

Learn why land stewardship is critical to our environment.

An area north of Lake Tahoe near Truckee dubbed “The Secret Garden,” in the Lower Carpenter Valley, is part of an enormous region that has been untouched for more than 100 years. Held by private owners until now, it is among a large swath that was acquired last year by conservation groups that plan to preserve the area’s natural habitat, which is home to many animals, rare plants and birds.

The valley was initially settled by dairyman William Carpenter and his wife, Julia, in the 1920s. It was later purchased by a group of fishermen, including newspaper publisher James McClatchy, who used it as a private retreat.

Since then, the picturesque landscape of the Lower Carpenter Valley—which is comprised of Sierra Nevada meadows, forests and wetlands, with snow-capped mountains in the backdrop—is under the control and ownership of the Truckee Donner Land Trust.

The area totals more than 1,300 acres of land. Animals living there include bears, badgers, beavers and birds (like the sandhill crane). Rare plants are also native to this area, with its fens and spring-fed bogs, such as the rare and carnivorous sundew and bladderwort.

Though the breathtaking terrain entices visitors from all over to gaze at the natural beauty in person, the Truckee Donner Land Trust is not allowing open public access to the area just yet because of the sensitive nature of the region.

“We’re trying to get to know the property a little bit better to find where the wildlife habitat hot spots are and the migration corridor and other things like that—to try and balance that with what the public wants to see, including the really nice wildflower gardens,” says John Svahn, associate director for the Truckee Donner Land Trust. “We want to see what is the best way we can get the public to go to those particular spots without disturbing the natural habitat.”

The Truckee Donner Land Trust is currently offering free guided hikes on the property that people can sign up for on its website, which is basically the only way people can experience it now. The Lower Carpenter Valley guided hikes are about 5 miles and run until mid-October, weather permitting.

The organization’s stewardship team is currently working on plans to get the Lower Carpenter Valley ready for public access. Once those plans have been implemented and completed, there will be trails, restroom facilities, parking and viewpoints for visitors. It is anticipated to be open for the public to enjoy unguided in 2020.

“Carpenter Valley is kind of one patch in a patchwork of landscapes that the Land Trust is trying to preserve,” says Greyson Howard, communications and marketing director for the Truckee Donner Land Trust. “These broader connections are really important ecologically for migration corridors and climate adaptation and therefore recreationally, because we can then create trails and recreation opportunities to move through these and other (sensitive) landscapes. Carpenter Valley is an incredible place, but it’s important in the larger scale of these connections that we are trying to create throughout the region.”

The Truckee Donner Land Trust recently announced a new campaign to acquire Frog Lake and neighboring parcels near the Lower Carpenter Valley. Totaling 2,914 acres, the properties are north of Interstate 80 and east of the Sierra Crest, falling between Castle Peak to the west and Tahoe Donner’s Euer Valley to the east. If acquired, it would open up the pristine lake and surrounding landscapes for public access in 2020 as well.

The Truckee Donner Land Trust is working with The Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy under the Northern Sierra Partnership to raise $15 million in capital to acquire the additional property.

Want to get involved? More information on how to volunteer or donate toward this and other campaigns can be found at tdlandtrust.org/types-giving.