MINDEN - Where wide-open spaces and clear mountain views now prevail, rancher Jerry Whitmire can see houses.
"The open space we have now is really a mirage," he cautions. "One of the questions people need to ask themselves is why they moved here. If you moved here because everything is beautiful and you want it to be saved, then you need to step up and protect that."
Whitmire calls the Valley's current undeveloped land a mirage because it is privately owned, and those owners might decide to subdivide, especially if estate taxes and economics continue to decrease the returns on agriculture.
Whitmire, who has ranched 1,000 acres in the Valley for 15 years, will be discussing those pressures during a series of workshops on open space conservation. Organizers hope to gauge public opinion about open space, ranging from definitions to willingness to pay for preserving it.
The first meeting will be held Wednesday. Those in attendance will also get an overview of existing recommendations about open space, as well as the Lincoln-Douglas Exchange, a program that would use proceeds from public land sales in Lincoln County to buy development rights on undeveloped land in Douglas.
County leaders are hoping for a heavy turnout.
"If it's important to the public to preserve this, they need to be here," said Mike Hayes, chairman of the county planning commission. "We need the public to come and give us their input on open space and agricultural land, and if there's an interest in preserving the rural character and landscape that exists today."
Jacques Etchegoyhen, chairman of the county commission and manager of the Mack Ranch in Minden, said the workshops represent a crucial step in county planning.
"If ranching is an important component of the community, how do we keep it?" he asked. "That burden of beautiful space shouldn't be borne just by the agriculturists themselves."
Etchegoyhen helped write a "white paper" full of goals and ideas for preserving Douglas County's open areas. The paper lists 10 potential taxes or fees, should residents be passionate enough about preserving open space to pay for it.
The paper will be available at the meetings, and also on the internet at sctalk.com.
In addition, workshop participants will be asked to complete a questionnaire about their opinions on open space.
With the information, open space proponents will decide how much effort should be put into preservation. The 1996 master plan update brought vocal support for maintaining the county's rural character, but, as Whitmire, Etchegoyhen and Hayes pointed out, preferences can change.
"If we don't do something today, half the ranches there today won't be there," said Etchegoyhen. "Are we going to allow paradise to be paved, or are we going to create a systematic way of keeping the attributes that brought us here?"
Wednesday's meeting will be held at the Johnson Lane Fire Station on Stephanie Way, starting at 6 p.m.
The Douglas County Planning Commission will host a series of workshops on open space and agricultural preservation. All meetings will start at 6 p.m.
- Dec. 1: Johnson Lane Fire Station, 1450 Stephanie Way
- Dec. 7: Sheridan Fire Station, Sheridan Lane.
- Dec. 15: CVIC Hall, 1604 Esmeralda Ave., Minden
- Jan. 5: Gardnerville Ranchos Fire Station, 931 Mitch Drive
- Jan. 18: Old courthouse, 1616 Eighth St., Minden
- Jan. 25: Topaz Park recreation facility
- Jan. 31: Old courthouse, 1616 Eighth St., Minden