The recent history of the Winnemucca Ranch, located outside of Reno, perfectly explains the tensions, cooperation, passion, and level-headedness that underpins successful land conservation. Click through for the story of the Nevada Land Trust and the Winnemucca Ranch.
“We take all that open space for granted here in Nevada,” says Tracy Visher, the grants and contracts manager for the Nevada Land Trust. “That is what Nevada is known for.” When the family that worked the Winnemucca Ranch for decades decided to break it up and sell it, the 5,000-acre property proved so enticing that the city of Reno wanted to annex it, even thought Reno is 30 miles south of the ranch. The land was divided into parcels for sale, and developers were eager to build on the beautiful rolling hills. The Nevada Land Trust and local artists — Erik Holland and Judy Hilbish in particular — worked to slow down the development until Nevadans realized what they were losing, and a better solution could be found.
“King Lear’s Cloak,” by Judy Hilbish
That partnership of land trust and plein air painters — always a strong one– succeeded in finding an amicable solution to the tensions between competing interests. The artists conducted “paint-ins,” tongue-in-cheek term that echoes “sit-ins” and that simply means they painted on the coveted property. The Nevada Land Trust, and in particular the detail-oriented Visher, helped stage art shows exhibiting work done on local lands, with a portion of the proceeds going to the trust. As usual, the money was less important than the exposure. “Our mission statement is to preserve open spaces for future generations,” explains Visher. “It’s really important for us to tell the story of the open areas. Pairing with plein air painters is a natural extension of this. They tell our story. The art becomes a vehicle to approach different people and tell our story in a different way.”
Erik Holland painting in Washoe Canyon
“Dogskin Mountain Blues,” by Erik Holland, oil, 12 x 16 in.
The local economy went into a tailspin, and ambitious development plans stalled. The community grew more informed about the issues surrounding the ranch. Washoe County stepped in and purchased some of the land. Developers bought their share. The Nevada Land Trust ended up with some of the ranch, but, more important, it brokered deals and smoothed the way for the land owner to transition much of the open space into a designation that keeps the land open yet provides for its maintenance. Visher says a lot of what the trust does is help land owners find the money to conserve the land.
Carol Grigus painting on the Carson River
In the end, everyone seemed happy, or happy enough. “It was not contentious,” says Visher. “It was just a matter of finding alternatives.”
Visher says the local plein air painters are great partners with the Nevada Land Trust for obvious reasons. “They appreciate what we do, allowing open spaces to exist, and they go out and create the amazing storytelling that really helps us,” she says. One ranch at a time.