Historic Virginia and Truckee Trail to Rejuvenate Famous Nevada Rail Corridor

Posted 12/05/19 by Donna Inversin in America's Trails, Building Trails

Historic Virginia and Truckee Trail | Photo by Jenny Anderson Haas, courtesy Muscle Powered

The signing of Assembly Bill 84 this summer by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak was a turning-point for trails, walking and biking in the state—with up to $217 million in bonds approved for conservation and wildlife management. The bill will provide unprecedented funding opportunities for marquee projects, including the fledgling Historic Virginia and Truckee Trail, a 50–60-mile trail project that’s poised to take advantage of the historic legislation.

A Rich Railroad History

Historic Virginia and Truckee Trail | Photo by Larry Marinel, courtesy Muscle Powered
Historic Virginia and Truckee Trail | Photo by Larry Marinel, courtesy Muscle Powered

The developing Historic Virginia and Truckee Trail (fondly referred to as the V&T) inhabits one of the most famous railroads in Nevada History, offering a unique experience for current and future trail users.

The corridor dates back to 1868, when the Virginia and Truckee Railroad was built by the Bank of California to carry ore from the Comstock silver mines of Virginia City to the processing mills along the Carson River. The railroad was later extended to Carson City to haul the lumber being flumed down from the Lake Tahoe basin to Virginia City to shore up the mine tunnels. In 1872, the track was extended north to connect with the transcontinental Central Pacific Railroad in Reno, and then south to Minden in 1906, resulting in an unusual three-legged configuration for the 66-mile railroad. 

The railroad became disused in 1950, and the route was returned to previous landowners—a mixture of private, city and county owners—as well as the Bureau of Land Management.

In about 2015, after intense efforts to advocate for the transformation of the corridor into a rail-trail, as well as critical support from local leaders*, momentum began to build, and the first grant application—to the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program—was submitted in 2017 to begin trail development.

A New Legacy for Nevada

Historic Virginia and Truckee Trail | Photo by Larry Marinel, courtesy Muscle Powered
Historic Virginia and Truckee Trail | Photo by Larry Marinel, courtesy Muscle Powered

The benefits of Assembly Bill 84 are far reaching, with real potential to offer vital support for the completion of 50–60 miles of paved and compressed-dirt nonmotorized paths in the V&T footprint that will highlight the history and natural beauty of the high desert of northern Nevada—and help preserve remaining sections of the old railbed.

The rail corridor’s new life as the Historic Virginia and Truckee Trail will connect five counties, five cities and six museums. Portions of the trail have already been constructed; Carson City, the state capital, has several miles of the V&T on the ground. And bicyclists ride along much of the old route, without even realizing it, through Washoe and Pleasant Valleys in Washoe County. 

Once complete, the rail-trail will also link together a handful of regionally and nationally significant trails such as the 1,800-mile Pony Express Trail, the 6,800-miles-plus American Discovery Trail and the 114-mile Tahoe Pyramid Trail. Through connections to those trails and others in Carson City and Douglas and Washoe counties, travelers can also reach the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail and the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail.

The economic impact that these trails have had on northern Nevada—along with the success and popularity of two decades of trail building throughout the state—are a testament to the further economic and tourism impact that the V&T can add to the state’s incredible network of trails.

An additional possibility includes building the trail along an active railroad in Douglas County, negating the need to choose between railways and trails. Douglas County officials dream of building a commuter line connecting Minden to Carson City, and a section of the railways already operates as a tourist train between Carson City and Virginia City.

Rail-with-trail could be constructed along those current and future rail lines, a move likely to draw hikers and bicyclists eager to take advantage of the opportunity to ride the train up to Virginia City and then return to Carson City by foot or two wheels.

Big Picture Benefits of Nevada Assembly Bill 84

Assembly Bill 84 opens up many unique opportunities for historical and cultural preservation, and considerable economic growth, for both the Carson City region and the state of Nevada. Additionally, the bill could result in many environmental benefits and open up a multitude of recreational activities for tourists and citizens alike.

Carson City has many historical buildings, including the original depot for the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, which is currently in private hands. Perhaps the new legislation will provide the opportunity to obtain grant money for the purchase and restoration of the depot to become a hub for the Historic Virginia and Truckee Trail. 

Highlights include the following:

  • $57.5 million for a statewide competitive grant program that can be used for the design and construction of hiking, equestrian and bicycle trails
  • $5 million for the preservation and rehabilitation of Nevada sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places

The state is currently working on drafting the regulations necessary for applicants to qualify for this funding. For more information, go to the Nevada Legislature website.

We at Muscle Powered, a citizen group working for a walkable and bikeable Carson City, enthusiastically support this new legislation—which could help preserve this priceless corridor. This is crucial, as much has been lost in the 69 years since the railway was shut down; we must do all we can to preserve what is left!

While the state works on drafting the regulations for applying for the bill funding, our group hopes to have our first grant proposal ready as soon as the funds become available.

For more information, go to the Muscle Powered website.

Special thanks to all those who worked so hard to make this bill possible, especially Lisa Granahan and Scott Morgan of Douglas County, Nevada.

*Acknowledgements to the late Pete Livermore, former Carson City County supervisor and state assemblyman; Joel Dunn, former executive director of the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau; and Juan Guzman, former Open Space Administrator for Carson City Parks, Recreation, and Open Space, whose critical support helped make the launch of the trail project possible.

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