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On the Fourth of July, you’ll fi nd Morgan Goodwin—mayor of Trucke e, California—camped out with his friends and a heap of cooking gear somewhere in the Cold Lakes Basin. “We all pitch in and feed the thru- hikers on the Pacifi c Crest Trail,” he explains, grinning. “We want to blow their minds: not just with great food and a friendly welcome, but also with how amazing our landscape is.” Even without the surprise meal, this stretch of trail is hardly a tough sell to visitors. One can only assume the Sierra Nevada has been dropping jaws since the fi rst time anyone set eyes on it—cer- tainly long before John Muir’s ecstatic odes fi rst dubbed it “the range of light.” Here the mountains beckon in all sea- sons, peaks promising a playground of snow-fi lled couloirs in winter and alpine lakes that mirror the boundless sum- mer sky. From lazy afternoons to all-day epics, there is something for everyone in the Sierra.

Their appeal is so broad, in fact, that the region’s popularity as an outdoor recreation destination seems only natural, an inevitability written in the granite. But locals and the conservation groups that serve them know their community’s success is no accident— and the future is not set in stone.

To “close the checkerboard,” The


In the 19th century, the federal govern- ment surveyed and divided much of the public domain into parcels, each a square mile. To support the still- young nation’s westward expansion, it then granted railway companies a right-of-way, plus outright ownership of alternating parcels within a certain distance of the tracks. The legacy of this approach in the Tahoe region—and much of the mountain west—is a check- erboard pattern of public and private ownership: national forest interspersed with logging tracts, vacation homes, and other development.

The checkerboard presents an array of challenges for land stewards. It’s costly and ineffi cient to plan one square mile at a time, whether the goal is to harvest a forest or restore it. From mountain biking to deer hunting, most outdoor recreation—and the jobs and revenue that come with it—requires unbroken expanses of public land. And then there’s wildlife, wildfi re, and water: interdependent natural systems whose impacts are felt well beyond the Tahoe region.

Trust for Public Land has worked for decades to conserve the most vulner- able parcels, transferring them to the national forests or local land trusts or protecting them with conservation ease- ments. Since 2007, the organization has pursued this work as part of the North- ern Sierra Partnership, a diverse alliance that also includes the Feather River Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Business Council, and Truckee Donner Land Trust.

“The Northern Sierra Partnership has acquired and helped to restore thou- sands of acres throughout the region,” says Fran Herbst, with the Tahoe National Forest. “The Trust for Public Land is the entity we’ve worked with the longest to mitigate the impact of the checkerboard. In recent years the partnership has been huge in terms of coordinating all the conservation eff orts in the region. The focus they’ve brought to this area is really remarkable.”

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photos, page 35: rich reid.

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