Wyss Foundation Partnership Helps Preserve the East Fork High Rock Canyon Wilderness

CARBONDALE, CO There aren’t many open landscapes left in the West where you can pretend to be an Oregon settler or California gold seeker, but the East Fork High Rock Canyon Wilderness is one of them.

With support from the Wyss Foundation, the Wilderness Land Trust acquired, from a willing seller, a 320-acre inholding surrounded by the wilderness in 2011 and just transferred it to the Bureau of Land Management. Now, with the permanent protection of this 320-acre property, the incredible wilderness is preserved for future visitors to experience the wonder and magnificence of the vast landscape of the High Rock desert. The East Fork High Rock Canyon wilderness contains the most dramatic stretch of the Applegate Trail, designated a National Historic Trail that is now part of the Black Rock Desert/High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area.

Discouraged settlers looking for a safer route to California and Oregon turned to the Applegate Trail, but the desert terrain provided its own set of challenges. The heat, limited water sources, and rocky terrain made for tough going. Today, the remote landscape retains its ruggedness, but visitors are rewarded with historically significant rock inscriptions from previous travelers and horizon to horizon views of the flowering grasses and luminescent sage brush under the big sky.

“When I visited the East Fork High Rock, I quickly became lost in its rolling hills. I was overwhelmed with the seemingly endless vistas stretching all around,” said David Kirk, Senior Lands Specialist for the Trust. “I can’t imagine crossing that landscape with all my possessions in my cart or wagon, particularly heading to a destination that I had never seen. The gift of wilderness is that it allows us to feel the same experience of the early settlers.”

The undulating and colorful East Fork landscape hosts an abundance of wildlife including mule deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, coyotes, sage grouse and nesting raptors. The rim-bound canyon provides remarkable terrain for wilderness backpacking and day hikes, crossing sagebrush covered buttes, valley meadows and scenic riparian Cottonwood Creek. With the Trust’s acquisition, access to a primitive trail that follows the meandering creek through the wilderness is now secured.

“The previous owners had utilized the property as part of their larger ranch and were pleased to work with the Trust to preserve the open landscape that they loved,” David Kirk remarked.

“Patience, Resilience and Perseverance by the Wilderness Land Trust are a few words to describe the recent acquisition,” said Gene Seidlitz, BLM Winnemucca District Director. “We are honored to bring these parcels into federal ownership and these holdings along the East Fork High Wilderness Area boundary make a wise and effective acquisition.”

The property is the Trust’s first completed land transfer in Nevada, and Nevada BLM’s first acquisition in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act. “This project marked the establishment of the Trust’s program in the state and opened doors to future work that will protect and enhance wild Nevada,” said Reid Haughey, President of The Wilderness Land Trust. The Trust also owns 280 acres in the Jarbidge Wilderness and 413 acres in the Ruby Mountains Wilderness and is working with the US Forest Service to add these properties to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

LandWhitner Chase