The worldwide environmental organization purchased the area, now known as the McCarran Ranch Preserve, in 2002 and has been working on restoration efforts since 2003, according to project director Mickey Hazelwood. About $6.5 million has been spent on a variety of projects, including construction of new river bends, creation of riffle sections, removal of non-native vegetation and planting native vegetation in the area, located off Interstate 80 at the Patrick exit near the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center. The work has been the result of partnership between The Nature Conservancy, neighboring land owners and federal and local governments.
“The scope and scale of the work that’s been done here is not something we could have done on our own,” Hazelwood said.
The need for the restoration came from failed flood prevention projects of the early 1960s, Hazelwood said. At that time, he said, the guiding philosophy to reduce flooding was to do anything to make flood waters move more quickly away from population centers. That meant straightening the river and removing natural barriers, such as rocks that created habitats for insects. While this approach made the water move faster, it also led to greater erosion of shoreline, it disrupted plant and animal life and, perhaps most importantly, it did not prevent flooding, Hazelwood said.
The restored section of river has natural bends and a replenished fish population, Hazelwood said. The in-river habitats for insects mean more fish and other animals that feed on them, and restored plant life leads to cooler water and filtering out excess nutrients.
While the project did not include transporting wildlife into the area, Hazelwood and others said they have seen more fish and birds and believe other animals will follow.
“The built-it-and-they-will-come has proven to be true,” he said.
Another type of animal that is being drawn to the restored area is the nature-loving human type. Several dozen invited guests came to Saturday’s ceremony officially opening the preserve. Among them was Reno resident Brian Frias, a member of the Truckee River Flyfisher’s Club. He said he has fished the areas of the river near the McCarran Ranch Preserve for a few years and he has noticed the difference the group’s work has made.
“They’ve done an amazing job of increasing the habitat for the fish,” he said Saturday as he taught several area children about fly fishing.
To access the preserve, take Interstate 80 east from Reno to the Patrick exit (#28). Follow Waltham Way south across the Truckee River. Turn right at the intersection and then right again onto Wild Horse Canyon Drive. Drive approximately one-quarter of a mile to the access road to the trailhead on the right. The trail includes a variety of informational signs about the river and the restoration efforts.
For more information, visit www.nature.org/mccarran.