Conservation History of Mount Rose
Conservation of Mount Rose began on April 13, 1899 with the establishment of the 136,335-acre Lake Tahoe Forest Reserve southwest of Lake Tahoe by Proclamation, 31 Stat. 1953. Although Mount Rose was not part of this initial forest reserve, the potential of protecting forest reserves was not lost on Nevadans. The same year, Nevada Senator William Stewart lent his support for withdrawal of additional lands from public entry and be included in the Expansion of the Lake Tahoe Forest Reserve as part of his plan to deliver surplus water in the Tahoe-Truckee catchment basin to arid lands in Nevada and to provide hydroelectric power for homes and industries in Reno (Pisani 1975: 129-133, 147-151).
The Act of Congress of Feb. 1, 1905 (33 Stat. 626) provided for the transfer of Forest Reserves from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture. Also in 1905, President Roosevelt signed Proclamation 34 Stat. 3163 greatly enlarged the Lake Tahoe Forest Reserve to include additional lands in California (761,617 acres) and Nevada (59,115 acres), and renamed the forest to the Tahoe Forest Reserve. This expansion most likely included the Carson Range adjacent to Reno. There is a reference in a 1908-09 Executive Order 870 that mentions the Tahoe National Forest “Included Shotgun areas from Mt. Rose to Ball’s Canyon [due west of present-day Bordertown].” (“Shotgun areas” may be a reference to hunting management areas that are too steep, narrow, and congested to permit hunting with with rifles.)
A 1908 map of Nation Forest District 4 clearly shows that the entire Carson Range in Nevada is exclude from District 4 and is part of Forest Service District 5. This map also shows that a small segment of Nevada in the vicinity of the Mount Rose is include within California’s Tahoe National Forest.
Early Conservation of the Carson District
The US Department of Agriculture Tahoe National Forest Map printed in 1916 clarifies the region of the Carson Range included within the Tahoe National Forest, this included most of the southern portion of what would become the Mount Rose wilderness. Of note on this map is the “Hunter Lake Road” dates back to a 1916 identified “Trail passable for pack outfits” that crossed over the Carson Range from west of Reno and descended down to Floriston via Bronco Creek. Another branch of this pack trail followed the crest of the Carson Range south of Bronco Creek, summited Mount Rose, descended down and across Galena Creek to cross over the present day Mount Rose Highway Pass and continued down to Incline Village. There is a marked Ranger Station in the headwaters of Bronco Creek and an “Area botanically interesting” indicated between and including the headwaters of Thomas Creek and Whites Creek. There is also an area marked as “National forest timber sales- cut over or in operation” just below the summit of Mount Rose in the area known as the Mount Rose Bowl. This 1916 map identifies the summit of Mount Rose itself as a recreation destination: “Point from which wide view is obtained.”
In 1935 a purchasing unit was established for the Tahoe National forest to consolidate Forest Service land holdings and administration (much of Tahoe carried the legacy of Central Pacific checkerboard property ownership or lands claimed by lumber companies during the timber rush associated with the Comstock Load). In 1937 the Legislature of Nevada passed enabling Act for Forest Service land acquisition in Douglas, Ormsby, and Washoe Counties. Several of theses purchases may have helped consolidate Forest Service holdings north of the Hunter Lake Trail. In 1939, 18,826 acres of Dog Valley were purchased and combined with the Tahoe National Forest, Carson District. That same year, a Carson District was established in the Mono National Forest. Tahoe Forest lands in Nevada and California east of the Divide from Beckwourth Pass, Babbit, Verdi Peak, Grays Creek to the state line were transferred to Mono National Forest in 1940. The Mt. Rose Ski Bowl on Forest Service Lands opened in 1941. A substantial purchase for Nevada took place in 1942 when 9,094 acres of lakeshore in Nevada between Marlette Lake and Spooner Summit were purchased and added to the Mono National Forest. Public Land Order 306, December 8, 1945 transferred all of the former Tahoe and Mono National Forest lands in Nevada (including the Tahoe Purchase Lands and nearly the entirety of Mono Forest Lands in CA and NV) to the Toiyabe National Forest. The boundary between Region 5 (mainly California) and Region 4 (the intermountain region) was shifted west to aline, mostly, with the CA/NV border and shifted into California to include the old Carson District of the Tahoe National Forest and nearly the entirety of the Mono National Forest in to the Toiyabe National Forest. The Toiyabe National forest became the largest forest in the U.S. at 3 million acres. At this point, the future Mount Rose Wilderness fell exclusively under the management of the Toiyabe National Forest. Tahoe Meadows (163 acres) will be acquired by the Receipts Act Fund and added to the Toiyabe National Forest in 1957.
Prelude to the Mount Rose Wilderness
In 1960, the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club placed a register atop Mount Rose on October 2nd engraved with a dedication to honor Dr J.E. Church (who died in 1959 at the age of 90). S.G. Houghton of Reno and chairman of the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club led 55 hikers in a climb to the summit ceremony, which included a talk by Forest Supervisor Ivan Sack. It is certain that protecting and preserving the Mount Rose area would have been a prominent topic of discussion.
The 1964 Wilderness Act gave the USFS the tools to evaluate and protect roadless areas as Wilderness. As the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE I) process began in 1971, over 100 roadless areas were identified by the forest Service in Nevada. Conservationists in Nevada conducted their own surveys and evaluations. The Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club in Nevada studied evaluated 70,000 acres of the Mount Rose-White’s Canyon area in February 1972 and gave it a preliminary classification recommendation of “Vehicle Exclusion.” The Nevada US Forest Service released their RARE recommendation for Wilderness in Nevada in January 1973, which included only 5 of the over 100 roadless areas that they evaluated. The RARE process in general was flawed and biased against Wilderness and resulted in the RARE II process after a wave of legal actions. The Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club pushed back in April 1973 with a proposal for 11 additional Wilderness proposal to augment the 5 proposed Wilderness by the Nevada USFS. The legal challenges to the USFS Roadless Evaluations focused on a too narrow interpretation of Wilderness by the USFS. One of the remedies of these challenges was the the passage of the Endangered Wilderness Act in 1978. Many wilderness advocates who fought for this law did so with the idea it corrected oversights of the Forest Service RARE I process and added criteria for recognizing Wilderness areas Forest Service didn't recommend. The Endangered Wilderness Act illustrated the need to designate outstanding natural as Wilderness because there “wilderness values are immediately threatened by pressures of a growing and more mobile population, large-scale industrial and economic growth, and development and uses inconsistent with the protection, maintenance, restoration, and enhancement of their wilderness character.” This Act confirmed the importance and need to protect qualified Wilderness Areas adjacent to the cities, a policy that had been resisted by the USFS previously. This opened the opportunity for advocating and designating the Mount Rose Wilderness.
The Galena Creek Resort
In the mid-1970s, while conservationist were advocating for more Wilderness in Nevada, plans were being made for a massive residential-resort community directly beneath the face of Mount Rose, including the entire upper drainage system of Galena Creek. As early as 1975, opposition formed to the “proposed $20 million Arab development…[that] would make Squaw Valley look like small potatoes,” that could negatively “affect the Truckee Meadows watershed.” (Reno Evening Gazette May 14, 1975.) It was, however, the death of LaVere Redfield in 1974 and the legal limbo of his private parcels in the area, that stalled the proposed project in the 1970s. With the Redfield property legislation settled in the early 1980s, the proposed Galena Creek Resort was aggressively pursued again. In 1983, public hearings to debate the pros and cons of the development began in Reno. The overwhelming public sentiment was opposed to the development. The Toiyabe National Forest lands had become exceeding important for recreation for the growing population of Reno, especially the vicinity of Galena Creek and Mount Rose. By this time by the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Friends of Mount Rose were pursuing a Wilderness Proposal that would include the Mount Rose Wilderness. This proposed bill was sent to the Nevada Congressional Delegation in early 1984. Many opponents were also concerned about the environmental impacts of the resort, within the upper drainage of Galena Creek and all the way downstream to the Truckee Meadows. Others were concerned about the congestion the proposed Galena Creek Resort would place on the surrounding communities from the Northshore of Lake Tahoe to Steamboat springs. Geologist Bruce Miller, a long time resident of Reno, presented to the hearing a compelling analysis of the geological and hyrdological hazards associate with such a high altitude development and described the long term detrimental impacts to the entire Galena Creek watershed. His comments persuaded the Washoe County and the Toiyabe National Forest to engage the Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate potential environmental hazards associated with the development. The Final Environmental Impact Statement written by the Army Corps of Engineers and released in late 1988, confirm Bruce Miller’s concerns. The conflict grew to be contentious, with the proponents dismissing the environmental and recreational conflicts. A Redfield trustee spokesman touted how the project would be boon to the economy of the Truckee Meadows and also directly attacked recreational users and access to forest lands by arguing that because the core of the devolvement is on privately owned property. The Galena project, he said, should be treated "like any other development on private land. It should be reviewed, on its merits and not on the basis of its present recreational value to individuals who may be unlawfully using the property without permission" (Nevada Gazette-Journal August 30, 1983).
The public opposition and the potential for the development to amplify environmental hazards prevailed; the project was withdrawn. The question of the private property in the Upper Galena Creek drainage was resolve with the 1994 Galena Resort Land Exchange. This exchange allowed for the 3,864 acres of private property in the upper Galena Creek to be traded for developable BLM land in the Las Vegas Valley. This brought the former private property of Upper Galena Creek into the Forest Service to assure it would remain natural and accessible to the public. This exchange was 5 years after the 1989 Nevada Wilderness Bill that designated the Mount Rose Wilderness and, unfortunately, that 1989 Bill could not consider including the Wilderness country of Galena Creek, because partial ownership was still in private hands at the time the bill was passed.
Access to National Forest Lands
In addition to environmental and ecological threats to the Carson District of the Toiyabe National Forest from massive developments adjacent to urban Reno, access to the public lands had always been compromised by the private property bordering the Forest Service lands, particularly on the east side. Millionaire LaVere Redfield owned most of the foothills below Mount Rose along the Carson Range north to Peavine. At one point he leased out some of the acreage to logging interests, an action that was successful resisted by Reno residences. Redfield also jealously guarded his property and was reported to watch his empire of land from his home in Reno with binoculars and set out immediately when he spotted people crossing his lands to access the National Forest and order them off his lands (Nevada State Journal September 7, 1974).
The most important access to the Mount Rose area has been the Mount Rose Highway. As mentioned above, there was only a pack trail along the crest of the Carson Range, dropping down into Galena Creek and then up and over what would become Mount Rose Highway Summit in 1916. By 1919, the Tahoe National Forest Map shows the dashed double-lines of a dirt road essentially following what will become the Mount Rose Highway. In 1930, this route is identified as a solid black line, indicating a secondary road. The first Mount Rose Summit highway was built in 1936 & 1937. Initially the project was funded by Washoe county, but soon the Forest Service recognized the importance of the route and engaged their funds to rebuild the majority of the route to USFS standards. The 1937 Tahoe Forest map shows the route in red, indicating that it is now a “highway.” Washoe County also worked with the Toiyabe National Forest to develop Galena Park, along this new highway the same year. In 1959, when the Reno Ski Bowl was selected as an alternate run for the Men’s Downhill Ski Run for the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, 12 miles of the Mount Rose Highway were upgraded to a “modern” highway from Sky Tavern to Incline Village. The new highway was officially opened May14, 1960.
One of the great motivations for designating Mount Rose Wilderness was to create a Wilderness that would be immediately adjacent to the City of Reno and accessible by citizens. The Hunter Creek Unit of the Mount Rose Wilderness was literally designated right up the edge of Reno’s suburban developments. For generations, the citizens of Reno had been utilizing Hunter Creek as a route of access for hiking, hunting, and fishing in the National Forest, and, after the 1989 Nevada Wilderness Bill, to access the Mount Rose Wilderness. The first trail up Hunter Creek was a user-created access trail. With the popularity of the Wilderness, the USFS started a volunteer project (utilizing the same Reno citizens who enjoyed Hunter Creek) to formalized and improve the Hunter Creek Trail in the early 1990s. Also at this time, the Juniper Ridge development of the former Redfield property adjacent to the mouth of Hunter Creek (the traditional access for Hunter Creek) started being developed with high-end homes. A legal, 10-foot wide easement for hikers to access the Forest Service lands adjacent to lower Hunter Create was brokered with the developer between lots 4520 and 4530 on Mountain Gate Drive. There was not, however, an identified trail that followed this forest land up across the Steamboat ditch (which was private property) to the established USFS Hunter Creek Trail.
The easement on Mountain Gate Drive also had no established parking or signage. When the occupants of these new expensive homes moved in, they started complaining bitterly about the hikers’s cars parked on the street and the fact that “strangers” were wander along their backyard fences. The home owners started posting “no Parking Signs on “their” streets and had vehicles of hikers and wilderness users towed. By 2001, there was essential no legal access to the Hunter Creek Trail. In 2003, the Tom Cooke Trail was constructed (again, with the labor of hiking advocate volunteers). This trail was an absurd compromise that started at Mayberry Park, climbed up to the Steamboat Ditch, then followed the ditch easterly to Hunter Creek. The trail added an additional 2 miles to the traditional access to the Hunter Creek Trail, which created a 2 hour, round trip hike just to reach the Hunter Creek Trail and the Wilderness. This loss of access to the Mount Rose Wilderness would not be corrected until the Michael D. Thompson Trailhead for public access to the Hunter Creek Trail opened on November 5th, 2009.
Dr. James Edward Church and the Invention of Snow Surveying
James Edward Church, graduate of the University of Michigan, began teaching Latin and Greek at the University of Nevada in Reno (UNR) in 1892. He left for two years to get his doctorate in classics from the University of Munich in Bavaria and returned to UNR where he pursued his love of mountaineering. In 1901, he began to study the water content of the snowpack on the summit of Mt. Rose near Reno, Nevada. Church soon developed a method of measuring snow that allowed him to forecast the likelihood of flood or drought. Although advanced techniques and equipment were developed later, Church’s fundamental precepts established the scientific approach of snow surveys and studies.
On June 29, 1905, Church established one of the first high-altitude meteorological observatories on the Mt. Rose summit (10,778 feet). This marked the beginning of the Mt. Rose Observatory that, through his work, became the Department of Mountain Meteorology and Climatology of the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station in 1906. By 1907, Dr. Church and his students had built an 8’ x 8’ building on the summit. They first constructed the four-bunk building in Reno, disassembled it, and then arduously packed it up the mountain.
By 1911, Dr. Church had refined his technique for predicting summer water supplies by measuring the water content of snow. He knew that this information was crucial in an arid state such as Nevada, particularly for agricultural pursuits. Through Church’s efforts and the cooperation of numerous state and federal agencies, snow surveying spread throughout the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin in the 1920s. By that time numerous power companies and water control entities in Washington, Idaho, New York, Canada, Norway and Switzerland had also adopted Church’s innovative techniques to manage their hydrological resources.
The international significance of Church’s work is indisputable and a 1944 newspaper article described him as the “world’s leading snow scientist and inventor of the principal snow survey and forecasting system used in almost every nation of the world.”
1916 Tahoe National Forest Map, showing Mount Rose Region