Outdoor aficionados will be happy to learn the United States Forest Service procured a 777-acre parcel that will allow the public recreational use of a property once reserved for a privileged few.
The parcel contains Incline Lake - now drained dry do to concerns over the viability and safety of the dam - a meandering Third Creek with tributaries and a host of wildflowers emblazoned on the mountain slopes that creep up gradually to the Mt. Rose Wilderness area.
"This is one of the richer areas that I've seen in the entire basin from a diversity of plant life standpoint," said Michael Gabor, forest engineer for the U.S. Forest Service.
The land was purchased by the Forest Service for $46 million in 2008 from Incline Lake Corp.
While the Forest Service unequivocally owns the land, the agency is embroiled in a lawsuit currently in federal court that will determine whether the sellers are entitled to more money from the land deal.
"The project is about acquiring environmentally sensitive lands and removing them from the threat of development," said Cheva Heck, spokeswoman for the Forest Service. "It's also about opening the land up to the public and allowing others to enjoy it."
Small summer cabins that once dotted the northeastern shore of Incline Lake were tore down when the property was purchased. Today, little vestiges of development remain on the property.
"We don't like to acquire land with buildings on it," said Heck.
Heck said the land was the largest remaining parcel on the Forest Service's running list of properties it would like to acquire.
The Forest Service recently obtained a 200-acre parcel that contains Quail Lake, located adjacent to the Homewood Ski Area.
"All the participants are willing sellers," said Mike LeFevre, planning officer for the Forest Service. "We don't use imminent domain."
The Forest Service is currently conducting a comprehensive resource analysis, cataloging wildlife, botany, cultural and historical resources before making decisions regarding the types of uses permitted on the Incline Lake property.
One of the largest looming decisions facing the Forest Service is whether to refill Incline Lake or let it return to its natural state as a spacious mountain meadow.
"The Forest Service tends to opt for the more natural side of land management, but we are open to public input," LeFevre said.
The public will have the opportunity to provide feedback regarding how the property should be used, before final decisions are made, said Heck.
Some of the choices include if and where a trail system should be installed, whether to allow horses, mountain bikes, and snowmobiles on those trails, and how much signage should be installed on the property.
"The parcel provides links to the Tahoe Rim Trail and the Mt. Rose Wilderness area, where mountain bikes are not allowed," said Gabor. "So the question becomes, if we allow mountain biking on this property does that encourage infringement onto other adjacent properties."
"Regardless of ongoing litigation or questions of permitted use, the bottom line is that this property is open to the public right now for non-motorized use," said Heck.
Some locals have already taken advantage.
Steve and Karen Kinsey, who have a second home in Incline Village, have walked the property often since the 2008 purchase, exploring the abundant nooks and copious crannies.
"This is one of the most gorgeous possessions the United States government owns," said Steve, before setting off down the trail in search of more discovery.