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Topaz agreement appears resolved

by Christy Chalmers

Twelve-year-old Michael Moore caught his first fish Tuesday at Topaz Lake.

“It was about a 30-second fight,” he estimated. “It didn’t take long.”

Across the county line in Yerington, those in charge of the park where Moore and his family were staying landed their own big fish – a tentative agreement to lease Topaz Lake Park from the Walker River Irrigation District, which owns the lake, for another 25 years.

Unlike Moore’s catch, the park agreement has taken years to negotiate, and it’s all but certain.

“We’ve been this close before,” said Douglas County Community Services Director Scott Morgan. “There are still some issues to work out.”

Those issues include details like what the county’s rent would be in the event there’s no water in the lake, use of land surrounding the lake and restrictions on what the irrigation district can do adjacent to the park, such as building a competing facility.

But irrigation district officials did agree on the major points: A 25-year lease that would require Douglas County to pay $25,000 a year for the first decade and $25,000 or 20 percent of park proceeds, whichever is greater, during the final 15 years.

The pact also includes a one-year lease that will go into effect when the current lease expires July 6. Though it will be voided once the long-term lease is signed, it will allow the county to operate the park through the rest of the camping and boating season.

The current lease has been in place since 1972. Douglas County has developed 69 camping spaces, a boat ramp, playground and restrooms at the facility, but postponed additional improvements based on concerns of whether another long-term lease would be developed. The 1972 lease expired in 1997 but has been extended using short-term agreements.

n Host of ideas. Boating and camping are the primary activities at the park, but if the lease is signed, Douglas has a host of ideas for improving it.

“We’re interested in shifting the focus away from the water. We’d like people to come out for things other than that,” said Morgan. “We do have a goal to create more of a camping, family atmosphere. We’d really like to have more extended-stay visits during the week.”

That could mean adding trail heads to adjacent Bureau of Land Management acreage for hikers and mountain bikers, a laundry facility, a fish cleaning area and more landscaping.

But the improvements aren’t imminent. They would require an extensive workshop and public comment period, as well as time to gather funding.

In the meantime, park use has grown over the last several years. Morgan said the park’s biggest year was in 1996-97, when it generated more than $110,000. In 1997-98, the last year for which figures are available, the park brought in $107,000.

n Repeat customers. Morgan and Topaz Park Ranger Don Swan, who oversees the park, estimated most of the users are repeat customers from around the region.

“Since the Jet Ski boom, this place has exploded,” said Swan. “From Memorial Day weekend on, we’re packed every weekend. It’s mostly locals. We don’t get many outsiders, but every once in a while someone will stumble on it and say ‘we’ve been coming here for 20 years and never even knew this was here.'”

Campers Kim Coburn of Gardnerville, Janna Mosley of Smith Valley and Rebecca Bover of Coleville and their children fit the local category. Bover said she’d been to the park many times; Coburn and Mosley were experiencing their first trip. All work at the Topaz Lodge.

“We like it a lot,” said Mosley. “We’ve been at the lodge forever and finally just decided to go camping. This is extra nice.”

“It’s pretty cool,” added Coburn’s son Moore, the newly-initiated angler.

A few spaces down, Minden resident Rosemary Maine was fighting gusts of wind while trying to pitch a tent in anticipation of a three-day stay. Maine, who moved recently from Oregon, had been introduced to the park three weeks prior by some friends.

“We don’t have quite the wind you’ve got here,” she said in comparing Topaz with her Oregon camping experiences.

“But it has what I like. I like it somewhat primitive. If I’m going to camp, I want to camp.”