Washoe Valley is the last rural vista between the rapidly growing Truckee Meadows to the north and Carson/Douglas to the south. Its green pastures, lakes and surrounding mountains provide pleasure to the thousands of commuters, tourists, and residents who use Highway 395, not to mention those who live and recreate there.
To the east lies the sage and pinion pine covered Virginia Range. To the west is the Carson Range of the Sierra Nevada with Slide Mountain (elev. 9,694) the highest point, only slightly upstaged by neighboring Mt. Rose, elevation 11,776. The Carson Range is primarily a Jeffrey pine forest with riparian corridors in the canyons.
Washoe Lake in “normal” years covers about six square miles, laps against Highway 395 in wet years, but many are the drought years when there seems to be more shore than lake. A shallow stretch of water in the center of the valley, Washoe Lake collects water from a series of creeks draining the Carson Range, including Davis, Ophir, Winters, and Franktown Creeks. Sometimes contiguous, the Scripps Wildlife Area and Little Washoe Lake to the north together with the large lake constitute a vital migratory waterfowl layover stop. In fact, the entire valley is listed as an Important Bird Area by The Audubon Society. The valley’s position as a transition zone between ecoregions adds to the species diversity there, both flora and fauna.
Washoe Valley is still rural and unincorporated with about 4,000 residents. In l870 there were 20,000.
Remarkably, Washoe Valley retains many characteristics of its early pioneer days.
Much of the land in and around the valley now belongs to the people and is managed by various agencies. Preservation efforts were initiated in 1946 when the Board of Washoe County Commissioners contributed $50,000 towards the purchase of Bowers Mansion and agreed to maintain the property as a public resort. In 1977 The Scripps Howard Corporation gave the Department of Wildlife property at South Washoe Lake. The Scripps Wildlife Management Area covering 2,000 acres provide critical wetlands. Davis Creek Park, part of the Winter’s Ranch, opened as a county park in 1968. Washoe Lake State Park at the south end of Washoe Lake was established in 1977.
In 1998 Washoe Valley residents, conservation organizations, federal, state, and local agencies began to look for ways to purchase parts of the Winter’s Ranch. The Bureau of Land Management is now the manager. Federal, state, and county funds have been used to acquire various properties throughout the valley.
The Forest Service manages most of the land along the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Bureau of Land Management the Virginia Range to the east. In 2001 the BLM consolidated its property in the Virginia Range through a land exchange. No wonder Washoe Valley is now a recreation, open space and wildlife haven!