A 'Canyon-do' spirit

Visitors to Nevada's capital city would not suspect that within its borders lies a scenic and rugged wilderness area offering outdoor enthusiasts a complete escape from the politics and commerce of downtown.

The last piece of Carson City's open space puzzle fell into place on the east side of town this week as the board of supervisors agreed to purchase nearly 500 acres of land owned by Don Bently along the river in the Carson River Canyon.

During the same month last year, a deal was struck between the city and John Serpa for the other major piece in the canyon - 419 acres.

"There are restrictions that this can only be used for natural recreational uses," Open Space Manager Juan Guzman told the board Thursday. "It has been used in the past for camping and shooting and dumping trash, but the property is in pretty clean condition right now."

The city's Parks and Recreation Department envisions the river corridor - located east of Deer Run Road - as a scenic playground for hikers, mountain bikers, fishermen and equestrian users, with the Aquatic Trail as its centerpiece for canoeing and rafting.

But picking up the final piece has not been easy.

"This is a complicated transaction," Guzman said.

The Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway will buy the property for $1.6 million, then turn around and sell it to Carson City for about $1.4 million.

As part of the deal, Carson City will grant easements to the V&T of about 28 acres, which will be used to extend the rails from the Eastgate Depot on the old railroad bed that now extends deep into the steep canyon.

"Mr. Bently wasn't a willing seller, but he wants to advance the goals of the V&T," Guzman explained. "The sale to the city is contingent on that V&T right of way."

Grant funding was obtained from the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, Parks Trails and Natural Area program to help with $650,000.

Other money came from the Open Space Acquisition Account, which is funded by the voter-approved state Conservation and Resource Protection Grant Program, also known as Question 1, and Carson City's Question 18 Quality of Life Initiative.

Along with its recreational value, the corridor has environmental and historic cultural value, Guzman said.

"Along this stretch of the Carson River, mine owners established their ore processing mills to take advantage of the available water and proximity to the Comstock mines to the north," said Mike Drews, chairman of the Carson City Historic Resources Commission, in a report to the board.

"This property encompasses the remains of the Nevada historic Santiago and Vivian Mills and is adjacent to the site of the Brunswick and Copper Canyon mills," he said.

Questions over environmental issues also came up during the process.

Due to mercury contamination from the mill activities, the river canyon has been designated as a Superfund site, but a letter from the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection states that sampling studies have determined that the land is suitable for general recreation.

Safety concerns were also part of the discussion.

Fire Chief Stacey Giomi said that from a fire protection standpoint nothing has changed.

"Our cost to suppress fires on private land vs. city property is equal. It is still our financial responsibility," Giomi said.

Emergency response will be a problem, however, he said, because while the road is open right now, motorized traffic eventually will be blocked at both ends, except for some of the property on the south side of the river.

"The train has always concerned me since day one. The V&T will be on that road with a lot of people on it, and there will come a time when there will be a problem for medical or fire having no road access," he said.

Weighing the risk has been difficult, he said.

"The number of accidents out there is not going to be that huge, but the V&T will be a huge attraction," Giomi said.

According to the purchase agreement, the transaction must be completed by Jan. 31.


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