Wagner Preserve

Nancy Wagner’s parents stumbled upon the Sierra Buttes and Lakes Basin in Sierra County in 1950 when car trouble stranded them in Sierra City for a few days. So began a family tradition of vacations in the Lakes Basin—one that continues to this day and promises to be passed on to future generations.

Wagner Preserve photo by John Wagner

The Sardine Lakes capture the snowmelt from the Sierra Buttes.Photo by John Wagner.

The thread of this tradition wove its way through Nancy’s childhood and young adulthood. One of her earliest memories is of looking at the Buttes through the bars of her playpen. A few summers later, she was off and running, exploring the endless open space, and swimming and fishing in the pristine lakes. When her family moved to Minnesota, she would often think of the clear blue lake at the base of the Sierra Buttes. The memories were comforting. “I was lucky to have been able to spend weeks at a time in the lakes and in the forest. That experience impacted my life and shaped who I am.”

The area was so deeply ingrained in her life that Nancy brought her husband there on their honeymoon. As the years passed, another generation embraced the family vacation tradition. “This was where I learned about nature, and how to hike and fish. We were lucky that our children could have the same experience.”

Worried about development around the Sardine Lakes, Nancy and her husband, John, decided to purchase a 17-acre property on the west side of Upper Sardine Lake, a headwater of the North Fork of the Yuba River. At 6,000 ft. elevation, the lake sits at the base of the Sierra Buttes where it captures the winter snowmelt. The water then flows to Lower Sardine Lake, to Sand Pond, to Salmon Creek, to the North Fork of the Yuba, down to the Feather River, and then to Sacramento. Speaking of the connection between conserving land and protecting the quality of the Sardine Lakes water, Nancy comments, “It is prudent to protect California’s headwaters; these are the sources of our drinking water and the foundation of our state’s agriculture.”

Although there were some bumps along the way, the purchase of the property was finally closed, a feat Nancy credits to John’s patience and persistence. Immediately, the Wagners turned their attention to selling the property to the fledgling Sierra County Land Trust (SCLT). Funding was secured through a state grant.

Nancy describes the process as “a kick, an honor, a real pleasure. The process was smooth; the Land Trust staff was very nice to work with. It was a true win-win.” Due to the Wagner’s and SCLT’s efforts, for years to come the public may share Nancy’s childhood experience of hiking around the western shore of Upper Sardine Lake to swim and marvel at the mountain and the sparkling blue water.