Castle Peak trailhead on Donner Summit sold to U.S. Forest Service

A hiker takes in the view from Castle Peak. The U.S. Forest Service bought the popular backcountry area’s trailhead March 25.
A hiker takes in the view from Castle Peak. The U.S. Forest Service bought the popular backcountry area’s trailhead March 25. Truckee Donner Land Trust

A Donner Summit area popular with hikers, mountain bikers and cross-country skiiers has been sold to environmental groups that transferred ownership to the U.S. Forest Service.

The Castle Peak trailhead, a 412-acre portal to Sierra Nevada backcountry just north of Interstate 80, had been in the hands of private owners who had sought to develop it, said Perry Norris, executive director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust. The area will now be preserved, he said.

“This purchase is about protecting a resource that a lot of people have taken for granted and one that many did not realize was threatened,” Norris said. “The purchase means there will never be a hotel or a golf course there.”

The trust, along with the Tahoe National Forest and the Trust for Public Land, bought the property for $2.1 million from Pendola Enterprises of Grass Valley and sold it to the U.S. Forest Service for the same price March 25.

The Pendola family of Grass Valley initially saw the land as ripe for development, given its location near several Donner Summit ski areas, but had listed it for sale for the last 15 years with a price tag of $7.5 million, Norris said.

The land encompasses a trail network that leads to Castle Valley and Castle Peak, the Pacific Crest Trail, the Sierra Club’s Peter Grubb Hut, the Hole in the Ground trail and the Donner Lake Rim Trail.

“This is arguably the most popular trailhead in our corner of the Sierra,” Jeff Brown, the Truckee Donner Land Trust’s board president, said in a news release.

It needs improvements to accommodate the heavy use, Norris said.

“The land is a wreck up there. The parking is bad and the gullies are washed out,” said Norris. “Our plan is to work with the Forest Service in the coming years to improve the trailhead and add interpretive signage to enrich the visitor experience.”

The acquisition is the latest in which the Truckee Donner Land Trust and other preservation groups have purchased private property to safeguard public access to backcountry recreation areas.

In December, the trust acquired 12 acres of private land near Donner Summit for $300,000 to preserve access to the craggy, 400-foot Black Wall, an iconic granite outcropping popular with climbers.

The Truckee Donner Land Trust and the Trust for Public Land bought the 3,000 acres of the Royal Gorge cross-country ski resort near Donner Summit for $11 million in December 2012. That land, too, had been owned by would-be developers, who eventually went bankrupt.

Edward Ortiz: 916-321-1071, @edwardortiz