By Andrew N. Wolf, Attorney, Incline Law Group
The owners of the Ponderosa Ranch and the former Stack Estate on the Crystal Bay waterfront have proposed a land exchange with Washoe County. The Ponderosa Ranch contains a portion of the Incline Flume Trail and remnants of the Bull Wheel that was reputedly part of the Great Tramway of Incline used to hoist logs from what is now Incline Village up to the fluming system that sent logs to Virginia City. The Incline Flume Trail — running from the Third Creek area of the Mount Rose Highway, through the Diamond Peak Ski Resort and all the way to Tunnel Creek Road — still contains remnants of the box flume that was constructed circa 1870s.
The county owns a number of public alleyways that project from County roads to the Lakeshore. One of the public alleyways extending from the County road to the lakeshore in Crystal Bay, eight feet wide by 200 feet long, lies between 44 and 61 Somers Loop, properties that are owned or controlled by the same group which controls the Ponderosa Ranch on the West side of Incline Village. Several years ago, an attempt was made to abandon this particular alleyway to the adjoining parcels and the request was denied by Washoe County. The current owner has proposed a land exchange in which the alleyway would be traded for a parcel to be split off the Ponderosa Ranch property containing a portion of the Incline Flume Trail and the historic Bull Wheel.
To be clear, the alleyway that is proposed to be traded is not the public stairway that is located between parcels located at 22 and 90 Somers Drive.
There have been strong sentiments expressed on both sides of the issue. On one side, opponents of the exchange note that public lake access is a limited and valuable commodity that cannot be replaced. They point out that if public agencies want ownership of the privately held portions of the Incline Flume Trail or Bull Wheel, they have powers of eminent domain which can be used to acquire those lands for fair value. On the other side, supporters of the land exchange would like the recreational resource of the Flume Trail and the historic resource of the Bull Wheel to be placed in public hands, so that the trail can be kept open, and properly marked and maintained. Over the years, the owners of the Ponderosa Ranch land have blocked access and/or posted no trespassing signs upon the portion of the Flume Trail that crosses private property. Supporters of the exchange also note that the Crystal Bay alleyway to be swapped is extremely steep and may not be capable of any formal use, development or improvement. Washoe County currently keeps it closed for safety reasons.
Washoe County has taken the initial step of exploring the concept of an exchange by authorizing appraisals of the affected lands and other investigative studies which are apparently being funded by proponents of the exchange.
Opponents of the exchange also argue that a decision to abandon a scarce Crystal Bay public lake access should not be mixed together with an analysis of whether the Incline Flume and Bull Wheel area should be acquired for public use, such as via eminent domain. They argue the questions are completely separate.
This is an important local issue. Interested and concerned citizens can follow and attend public meetings and write their elected officials. The Washoe County staff report of May 13, 2014, and various public comments concerning the proposed land exchange can be found here: