Hikers, equestrians and other outdoor enthusiasts could have access to 10 miles of riverfront trails if the Nevada Division of State Parks is able to acquire the North Ghiglia Ranch in Silver Springs.
"The acquisition of North Ghiglia would create a very unusual situation in the West and in the U.S. - 10 miles of publicly accessible river corridor," said Eric Johnson, regional manager for state parks' Fallon district. "In Nevada, finding open space is getting harder. It's getting harder to get away from people."
The parks department is working on a proposal to the current property owner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that would exchange water rights the state now holds for the 1,670-acre parcel.
"What we want to do is exchange water rights for land," Johnson said. "We think we have enough water rights that we can exchange some of them and still irrigate the property."
Johnson said if the acquisition is successful, the North Ghiglia will join three other ranches already owned by state parks to become a complete system of parks, trails and open space. The South Ghiglia, which has 883 acres; the Depoali Ranch, 1,014 acres; and the Amerongen Ranch with 1,244 acres, are all part of the state parks system. The combined four parcels will complete a recreation area connecting Fort Churchill State Park, with Lahontan Recreational Area.
Enhanced recreation opportunity is not the only reason the state would like to acquire the North Ghiglia, Johnson said. Maintaining agriculture and wildlife habitat is another.
"The area is swimming in deer and turkey," he said. "It can be used for hunters, hikers, canoeists, campers, equestrian trails - non-motorized use."
Johnson said, in addition to deer and turkey, the ranch is home to quail, hawks, eagles, owls and beaver.
Parts of the ranch are leased by Fallon ranchers for cattle grazing, and Johnson said deer and cattle get on well. "They're very compatible," he said. "Agriculture creates wildlife habitat."
The grazing of the cattle and other animals helps eliminate noxious weeds, another of state parks' goals.
"I'm an advocate of spraying, but that should not be your sole control tool," Johnson said, adding that allowing animals to graze, as well as reseeding, keeps weeds under control.
The most difficult weed to control is whitetop, he said.
Another objective is to regenerate the cottonwoods on the ranch, which Johnson said was about 60 percent open fields and 40 percent wooded with old-growth cottonwoods.
Though cottonwoods consume about 300 to 400 gallons of water daily, Johnson wants to encourage their growth. "That's part of the habitat," he said.
The ranch, just north of Buckland Station on U.S. Highway 95A, near Fort Churchill, was purchased in 1999 by the Fish and Wildlife Service for $2.6 million, primarily to acquire the 4,000 acre-feet of surface water rights that went with the property.
The service then sold 660 acre-feet of groundwater rights to the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center for $835,000.
According to Richard Grimes, the service's real estate supervisor for Nevada and Southern California, the purpose was to use the surface rights that went along with the land for the Stillwater Wildlife Refuge in Churchill County.
"We bought the property because it had pertinent water rights, 950 acres of appurtenant water rights," Grimes said. "We appropriated the water to move down stream to Lahontan Valley wetlands."
Grimes said approval of the transfer of water to Stillwater was pending before the state engineer. No exchange can be made without the state engineer's approval of the transfer, he added.
The proposed exchange is still in negotiation, Grimes said, and is not certain, because federal law required the government to obtain fair market value for the ranch.
"There's also the possibility we might just sell it," he said, "but we want to see that corridor preserved for the public."
The ranch is currently being managed by state parks, under a special-use permit, Johnson said, and water has been temporarily transferred form South Ghiglia to maintain the wildlife habitat on the north parcel.
Johnson praised the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as Lyon County officials for their effort.
"They have all been so supportive," he said. "They want state parks to end up with this ranch.
-- Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 882-2111 ext. 351.