SHPO Award Tom FeeAs part of May’s Archaeological Awareness and Historic Preservation Month sponsored by the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office, the CA-NV chapter of OCTA was recognized for ongoing preservation efforts at the Fernley Sand Swales, a landmark stretch of the Truckee River Route of the California Trail northwest of Fernley, Nevada. Tom Fee, “trail boss” for Fernley Sand Swales projects, accepted the award on behalf of OCTA during the Silver Tea Ceremony at Virginia City’s 4th Ward School, held on May 18, 2008. The certificate of recognition was presented by State Historic Preservation Officer Ron James, who extended thanks from the State of Nevada for OCTA’s stewardship of the swales, described by him as a “model for historic preservation.”

In 2001, CA-NV OCTA became a partner with Nevada BLM for the Fernley Swales Historic Preservation Easement, the result of a land exchange between BLM and a private developer with long-range plans for both commercial and residential development of the land surrounding the swales. Since that time, chapter members convene every October to remove debris from the easement and to record the changing conditions in the swales using an archaeological site photo-monitoring program established by the BLM. Within the fragile dune environment of the swales, natural and human-caused impacts cause erosion and other changes, both gradual and catastrophic, which the routine photo-monitoring program will clearly demonstrate over a long period of time.

That OCTA simply “removes debris” from the sand swales is a rather misleading generalization. Several large flatbeds, trailers and even dump trucks are required for the October clean-up of the one-mile easement, and since 2001, the record of tonnage hauled away has steadily increased. A combination of factors contributes to continued public use of the swales as a dump for furniture, appliances, vehicles, and other large, hard-to-dispose-of items. One factor is apparent in the swales themselves – the high sand berms along the south side of the wide swales conceal illicit dumping activities from sight, and the swales are easily accessible by any high-clearance or 4WD vehicle from the adjacent grade of the historic Central Pacific Railroad, now a well-used dirt road. Rising area population, as well as rising fees at the local landfill, are also resulting in rising mounds of trash in the desert around Fernley.

Among the many threats that OCTA fights at the Fernley Sand Swales are low levels of local awareness, interest and concern for protecting and preserving this type of historic site. Tom Fee has emphasized and encouraged community involvement from organizations such as the Fernley Leader-Courier, the Fernley Preservation Society, and more recently, the City of Fernley Parks and Recreation Department. Betty Aleck of the Leader-Courier has done a wonderful job of publicizing the cleanup events, and Linda Sanders and the Fernley Preservation Society have supported OCTA’s efforts for many years. Waste Management at Fernley allows free dumping at the local transfer station, and for the past two years the Fernley Department of Parks and Recreation has provided a trailer and work crew. The nearby Truck Inn has contributed water, large trash bags, a long flatbed trailer and staff volunteers. In 2007 Arnold Coronado of Arnold’s Wrecking Yard hauled off several abandoned vehicles, a trailer, pickup beds, and other material unaccepted at the transfer station. BLM, as well as OCTA members Andy Quinn and Steve Knight, have all contributed flatbed trailers for transporting the debris.

A part of this certificate of recognition must be dedicated to Gary Bowyer, the BLM archaeologist (Carson City) who established the preservation easement at Fernley Sand Swales in 1998, pushed it through many roadblocks to fruition, and made certain that OCTA was on board as a permanent caretaker of the swales. Gary died of cancer in December 2005. The majority of recognition, however, is much deserved by Tom Fee for coordinating and leading OCTA’s annual activities at Fernley, and for being a “model trail boss” to the great sand swales.

– Leslie R. Fryman

P.S. Recently Tom Fee presented Certificates of Appreciation from the CA-NV Chapter to several persons involved locally with the annual Fernley Sand Swales clean-up. Steve and Patty Knight created the framed certificates for the following:

  • Karen Giron and the Truck Inn

  • Linda Sanders, Fernley Preservation Society

  • Keith Penner, Fernley Department of Parks and Recreation

  • Betty Aleck, Fernley Leader-Courier

  • Arnold Coronado, Arnold’s Wrecking Yard

  • Fran Hull, Carson City BLM

  • Mike Genera, Waste Management

Thanks again, Tom, and thanks to all that continue to support this important preservation project on the Truckee Route!