Conservationists in the Sierra Nevada are celebrating the protection of a piece of property high above Lake Tahoe that was home to a hotel along the Pony Express trail in the 1860s.
The 123-acre parcel along the Kingsbury Grade near Daggett Pass is becoming part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest after the Trust for Public Land bought it for $750,000 then resold it to the government.
The money was made available through the sale of other lands the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had identified for disposal, mostly in southern Nevada.
A part of the Pony Express route, the Kingsbury Grade once was called the Vansickle Toll Road and now is part of Nevada Highway 207. It connects the Carson Valley south of Carson City with the Lake Tahoe Basin, topping the 7,300-foot elevation at the pass near the Nevada side of the Heavenly ski resort that straddles the state line with California.
The property will be managed by the U.S. Forest Service in coordination with Douglas County, which is turning part of the Old Kingsbury Grade into a segment of the Pony Express National Historic Trail.
That trail will provide hikers, horseback riders, and bicyclists with a route between the Tahoe Basin trail system and destinations in Carson Valley.
The land belonged to Patricia G. Baker of Carmichael, Calif., the widow of Dr. John M. Baker, a native of Gardnerville whose family acquired it in the late 1930s. It was on a relatively flat part of the mountain known as "Peters Station," where Elizabeth and Richard Peters built a three-story hotel in the 1860s.
"We hope that this gift will offer the opportunity for children of the valley to explore the hidden history of the Kingsbury Grade, enjoy its trails and wildlife, and view from the highest peak the green valley below their home," Patricia Baker said.
The purchase was authorized under the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, which Congress approved for another year last month at the urging of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
"The Daggett Pass project is an excellent example of FLTFA dollars going to protect important lands in Nevada, to improve public access to our open spaces, and to preserve our rich historical heritage for our children and grandchildren," Reid said.
Carl Somers, senior project manager for the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, said the deal would not have been possible without Reid's support and "Mrs. Baker's vision for this property."
"It is gratifying that we have been able to preserve a place which has so much history and which will provide public access to the Tahoe Basin," Somers said.
Jeanne Higgins, supervisor of the national forest, said the move will help protect part of the Daggett Creek watershed as well as the Pony Express Trail.
"This is a wonderful piece of property to have in public ownership. It has high value in providing habitat for a number of wildlife and fish species," she said.