Finding land that's dirt cheap - or free - seems to be a theme for Carson City's Open Space Committee lately.
In a recent proposal before the committee, the Nature Conservency offered to give the committee more than 17 acres of wetlands.
The wetland parcel sits between Lompa Lane and the proposed freeway right of way, due south of the Shaheen Business Park on Goni Road.
The wetlands were given to the Nature Conservancy, Nevada Project, by Roger Shaheen in 1997, said Rob Scanland, land and water protection director for the conservancy's Nevada Project. The Conservancy tries to preserve animals and their natural habitat by buying the land and water different species need to survive.
"Our thought is that we're very community based and when possible we partner with local organizations," Scanland said. "We are an international organization, and we want to work with communities and groups.
"The Open Space Committee is just the perfect vehicle and group. If the committee had been up and running in 1997, Mr. Shaheen would have probably donated the land to Carson City. (The land donation) would be our contribution to what we hope will be a very successful program. The side benefit is that it does provide habitat for plants and animals."
While the land comes at an excellent price - free - the committee members still have concerns with the site.
Committee member Bruce Scott said before accepting the wetlands as open space, the committee is waiting for more information on deed restrictions and requirements from the 1997 dedication.
"Personally, I think we need to know a little more of what it would take to manage it," Scott said. "As I see it, (the committee) is kind of like a holding company. If wetlands need special attention, we have to consider that.
"Anything like that is kind of intriguing, but we're still feeling our way along. We just need to know for sure what we're getting into."
Committee members are also worried about the city's lack of experience in managing wetlands. The committee would like help from the Conservancy and perhaps the Lahontan Audubon Society to help manage the wetland.
A group including committee member Dan Jacquet, Peter Brussard, biology professor from the University of Nevada, Reno, Bob Goodman and Ed Tilzey from the Lahontan Audubon Society and Walt Devaurs, a Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist, toured the wetland area Friday.
For Jacquet, assistant field director for the Bureau of Land Management, the trip was two-fold. The BLM is working with Brussard to find and protect habitat for the wandering skipper, the endangered butterfly that made its home in the area wetlands. He also wanted to get more information on the biological value of the land as an open space parcel.
"Who wouldn't want this? It's beautiful," Jacquet said.
The wetland area is literally an oasis. Standing on a berm near the freeway right of way, the chirping of redwing blackbirds can be heard over nearby construction and traffic.
A muskrat swims in a reed-filled pond. Butterflies, rabbits, frogs and other marsh critters flitter, scurry and swim about the area. Development surrounds the wetland, a business park to the north, housing to the west and east and a future freeway to the south and west. Some wayward trash from nearby developments has filtered into the area.
Why would anyone want to preserve an area destined to be surrounded by urban progress?
"Because the alternative is a McDonald's," Brussard said. "There are damn few wetlands left and there are lots of McDonald's. The biggest value to this is as a functional wetland, and it's a nice, natural spot."
As Jacquet looks at the land, he sees a bike trail skirting it, or an environmental education area. It also has potential as part of the city's storm drainage plan because wetlands act as a natural sponge for water runoff. Brussard said the land had the potential to be a home for the wandering skipper, although the butterfly hasn't been spotted in the area in more than two years.
"Wetlands are the most valuable land type we have in the Great Basin," Jacquet said. "There are more species in a few acres of wetland than in the vast uplands. These wet areas are important. It's a microcosm of what Eagle Valley used to look like. This is a high-quality wetland that comes to Carson City at no cost.
"That we have offers from partners to assist in the management is going to help save city open space funds. We're not always going to get those offers on our open space lands.
"If there aren't too many deed restrictions on this property, I think the committee could move quickly to obtain this parcel."
Tilzey, conservation chair for the Audubon Society, said he thought the society would be interested in helping manage the area.
Open space planning has been in the works since the passage of the Quality of Life initiative in 1996. Question 18 authorized a quarter of 1 percent sales tax increase to fund open space, parks and trails. The tax raises about $1.7 million a year with 40 percent going towards open space, 40 percent towards parks and 20 percent for maintenance of new park projects.
The committee will only have about $700,000 a year to purchase open space land.
The committee recently recommend that the city accept a 77-acre parcel for the bargain price of $1. The hill, which lies between Silver Oak and Lakeview subdivisions, may be donated instead, depending on which provides a better tax incentive to property owner Paul Casey.
The donation is part of a housing development that must first be approved by the Carson City Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, said city Senior Planner Juan Guzman.
The committee is also waiting on an appraisal for another parcel that is key for the city's trail plan. The parcel is on the west side of Mexican Ditch between Hells Bells Road and Carson Creek.
It would help link the Linear Park trail to the Mexican Ditch trail. Property owner William Moffat Jr. has granted easements to the city for its bike path through other parts of his property, but one of his parcels would be undevelopable with an easement on it.
The committee has a meeting with the Carson River Advisory Committee on July 10 to consider 14 parcels along the Carson River in which both committees have an interest in preserving.
The Carson City Open Space Committee and the Carson River Advisory Committee will meet July 10 to consider 14 parcels along the Carson River.