Protecting Picayune Lake and 1.2 Miles of the PCT Along the Trinity Divide

(Reprinted from the summer 2019 issue of the PCT Communicator magazine.)

In April 2018, PCTA Land Protection Director Megan Wargo told me about a property that had just come on the market that included 1.2 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Picayune Lake property, as it has come to be known, is along the Trinity Divide of Northern California, about a 45-minute drive off Interstate 5 at Mount Shasta City. It’s a beautiful property, with forests, meadows and a private lake. It also includes a cabin that could be further developed and timber that could be logged. It’s the kind of land the PCTA works to protect from development so future trail users can enjoy it to its full potential.

The Picayune Lake property is an ongoing land protection effort of the PCTA.

We had to move quickly. The owner wanted to sell in a short timeframe. Neither the PCTA nor the Forest Service had the money to buy it quickly. We didn’t even have time to raise the money from concerned donors. Moreover, the 690-acre lake property’s extensive forests meant that a buyer not sympathetic to the PCT might harvest the timber, seriously changing the views and trail experience.

The property was up for auction, and the stakes were high. This was an ecologically valuable property that had been owned by a timber company for more than 70 years.

In early 2016, I updated PCTA member Hank Magnuski about our ongoing work to protect and preserve the 10 percent of the trail that remains in private hands, vulnerable to development or other uses incompatible with the wilderness experience that PCT users love and deserve.

Hank Magnuski on the PCT near Picayune Lake.

We met at a coffee shop near his home in Palo Alto. Initially, I’d wanted his thoughts on upcoming PCTA technology projects that might improve public access to trail information. Hank has a PhD in electrical engineering and is an expert in app development. He was an early pioneer in personal computing and fax technology.

Without much thought to the possible consequence of my words, as we were parting, I casually asked if he ever would be interested in acquiring property on or along the trail. He said that he would consider it, as long as it was not too far from the Bay Area.

Protecting the trail and surrounding landscapes from constant and increasing development pressure is one of the PCTA’s highest priorities. We work with willing sellers to buy and transfer threatened private lands into public ownership when opportunities arise. Usually we acquire the property with the help of government agencies or private donors, land trusts, other conservation organizations or a combination of all of the above.

Picayune Lake.

When Megan told me the auction deadline for the Picayune Lake parcel was July 2018, that conversation with Hank popped into my head. I emailed him the information packet, and he confirmed his interest. A visit to the property quickly followed. Hank realized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, not only to own a beautiful mountain property but, more importantly, to also protect the trail and the views along it for generations to come.

But he needed to move fast, and he needed to convince his wife, Cindy, that they had to buy 690 acres of California forestland.

Hank came to California in the early 1970s to pursue post-doctoral work at Stanford University. He discovered the PCT through early Boy Scout adventures with his son and became smitten with the Sierra and its “high altitude moonscapes.” Originally, Hank had only planned for a two-year sojourn in what is now Silicon Valley.

“Cindy was equally passionate about saving the land,” Hank said. “She supports me on all my trail maintenance volunteer trips.”

Hank enlisted the support of another partner who is also concerned about land conservation. Together they were able to secure the winning bid on the Picayune Lake auction. When I met him again at the same coffee shop, he was beaming.

“Being able to participate in a small way to preserve something both vulnerable and vital for posterity is very valuable to me,” he said. Cindy was happy to know that their grandchildren and future generations of their family would have the PCT in their backyard.

I asked him how things were progressing with the property, how it had changed their lives, and what his plans were for the future. Hank pondered for a moment.

“Since I acquired the property, I’ve received so much appreciation from the U.S. Forest Service,” he said. “They’ve been enormously supportive.”

Hikers on the PCT near Picayune Lake.

He said he also received a lot of help and enthusiasm from colleagues at the Trail Center in Palo Alto.

“The PCTA is extremely grateful to work with Hank, Cindy and their partner to find a way to protect this important section of the PCT,” Megan said. “As friends of the PCT, they were able to get the property off of the market and allow us time to all work together to come up with a permanent protection plan.”

The Picayune Lake property is a priority acquisition for the PCT. So once Hank, Cindy and their partner secured it, we began discussions with the Forest Service on moving forward with a plan to transfer the land around the PCT to public ownership.

Earlier this year the Forest Service confirmed they had secured funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to purchase and permanently protect the portion of the Picayune Lake property that contains the PCT. The Forest Service still needs to complete all its acquisition due diligence on this land, so it won’t likely become publicly owned until 2020 or 2021. Hank will keep the property on which the lake and the cabin sits.

As I write this in April 2019, Picayune Lake, like much of the area, lies beneath a blanket of snow. Hank is itching to get up there and visit his property in June. Until then he’s becoming an expert on the native and early settler history of the region.

Hank himself has become part of that history. It’s good to know that our grandchildren will be reading about him in 100 years.


You can visit our Land Protection pages to learn more about the PCTA’s efforts to protect the last private parcels that the trail crosses and how you can help.

Author: Mark Waters

As the Pacific Crest Trail Association’s Associate Director of Philanthropy, Mark helps develop compelling opportunities for donors to support the PCTA and make the experience of giving satisfying and rewarding. He enjoys spending his free time playing and exploring with his sons.