Experts say that by 2030, well over half of the world’s population will live in cities. If just the thought of 5 billion people crammed into dense mega-cities makes you feel claustrophobic, this should be a breath of fresh air: a coalition of conservation groups just announced that they’ve saved 3,000 acres of stunning Sierra Nevada property from development.

An agreement announced yesterday [PDF] by The Trust for Public Land, the Truckee Donner Land Trust (TDLT), and the Northern Sierra Partnership (NSP) guarantees that famed Royal Gorge property on Donner Summit will never become a golf course or hotel for the rich and famous (which is what developers had planned as recently as 2007).

“This is the most important conservation acquisition in the Sierra Nevada in a generation,” said Tom Mooers, director of Sierra Watch, a nonprofit in Nevada City. “Some people call it the most important square mile in the American West. It’s that important.”

The Donner Summit Royal Gorge saved from development

The previously proposed development would have included over 900 homes around Serene Lakes

In 2005, a speculative partnership purchased Royal Gorge and, two years later, floated plans for a controversial 950-unit resort. Local residents and second homeowners were shocked that their wilderness getaway might become a tourist attraction. Grassroots activists worked with regional organizations to oppose the project and instead suggest a a conservation approach.

Under the new agreement, the land trusts agreed to buy the property for $13.5 million, an amount they will spend the four months trying to raise from supporters. If successful, the Truckee Donner Land Trust will become the new owner of Royal Gorge and will oversee a long-term stewardship plan aimed at expanding all-season recreation opportunities. The Trust will work with community groups to improve the network of local trails on the property so visitors can more easily explore Royal Gorge and understand its role in our nation’s history.

The trusts plan to build trails and remove fences throughout the property, which includes lakes, old-growth red fir forests, headwaters for three major rivers and the 800-acre Van Norden Meadow.

Photo Credit: Main - Kevin Collins/Flickr | Insert: Donner Summit Area Association