The Truckee Donner Land Trust announced that Van Norden Meadow, one of the northern Sierra’s most important meadows, is now in the public trust. Van Norden Meadow, roughly 7,000 feet in elevation, marks the headwaters of the South Yuba River, collecting spring runoff from Castle Peak, Sugar Bowl and Razorback Ridge. The 880-acre meadow was initially acquired by the Truckee Donner Land Trust in 2012 as part of the 3,000-acre Royal Gorge Acquisition.
“I am proud to say Van Norden Meadow, one of the largest sub-alpine meadows in the Sierras, now belongs to the American people as part of the Tahoe National Forest,” said Eli Ilano, Forest Supervisor for the Tahoe National Forest. “This land, acquired through a tremendous partnership effort and groundswell of community support, has a rich human history, offers important recreation opportunities and contains an important, yet rare, ecosystem that benefits wildlife and people. It is one of the largest sub-alpine meadows in the Sierras. The acquisition will allow for restoration being planned in concert with numerous partners,” Ilano added.
Van Norden was slated for a 950-unit development until acquired and protected by conservation groups including the Truckee Donner Land Trust, The Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy and Northern Sierra Partnership. “The protection of Royal Gorge and Van Norden Meadow brought together citizens, local, state and federal government agencies, for-profit companies and non-profit organizations, partners, friends and lovers of the outdoors,” said Perry Norris, Executive Director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust.
“The effort is a testament to the importance and value of Summit Valley and the Van Norden Meadow to so many. It has an important place in the history of the Sierra and will play a key role in the future of this part of the Sierra. As we work together to design the future of this special place, we will be planning for our own future in this part of California,” said Joanne Roubique, Truckee District Ranger.
The restoration effort is currently being led by Forest Service hydrologist Randy Westmoreland and the South Yuba River Citizen’s League. Westmoreland has completed many other restoration projects in the northern Sierra, including restoration of the Little Truckee River in Perazzo Meadows, a portion of the Merrill-Davies Creek watershed, and most recently, Dry Creek in Russell Valley. “He’s as good as you can find anywhere to direct the recovery of this important meadow,” said Lisa Wallace, Executive Director of the Truckee Watershed Council.
High elevation meadows are a limited and dwindling resource,” Westmoreland explained. “They serve as riparian corridors for wildlife, productive wildlife breeding and foraging habitat, and Van Norden provides habitat for both endangered and sensitive species.”
Sierra meadows also provide source water protection for water used by a majority of Californians. Properly-functioning meadows store snowmelt and release the water later in the year when it is most beneficial to wildlife and humans. Van Norden was modified, as were many Sierra meadows, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the construction of the railroad, the Lincoln Highway, Van Norden Dam, and the construction of facilities to aid grazing. These modifications altered the meadow hydrology by increasing the rate of snowmelt runoff downstream and desiccating the meadow. The restoration planned by the Forest Service will re-water the meadow and restore proper ecological function.
Van Norden Meadow was purchased by the United States with Land and Water Conservation Funds (LWCF). Created by Congress in 1964, LWCF provides money to federal, state and local governments to purchase land, water and wetlands for the benefit of all Americans. The Fund receives money mostly from fees paid by companies drilling offshore for oil and gas.
“The conveyance of Van Norden Meadow to the United States was in the works long before we acquired Royal Gorge,” said Jeff Brown, the Land Trust’s President. Brown notes that proceeds from the sale will be “put right back into Donner Summit areas for forestry management, meadow restoration and conservation of other properties in the region.”
The meadow is accessible via the Sheep Pens Trailhead located on Van Norden Lake Road.