Conservation of 320 Acres at Picayune Lake Takes the Cake

Hank “The Owl” Magnuski looked at his watch. “Maybe some hikers will be passing through.  Let’s check.”

Hank Magnuski, center, with PCT hikers at Picayune Lake. Photo by PCTA.

It was late morning near the end of July, and the temperature was already climbing into the 90s.  Associate Director of Philanthropy Mark Waters jumped into the passenger seat, and together they waited, as trail angels do, north of the Gumboot Trailhead for an untold number of hikers making their way through the Cascade Range.

This time, Hank had more to offer than a soda and cookie:  it was an invitation to celebrate the addition of 320 acres and 1.2 miles of the PCT to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. As luck would have it, Hank and Mark returned with six smiling hikers, happy to jump into Picayune Lake and partake of the myriad sandwiches and goodies set out on the deck of the restored 1940s-era cabin.

This wasn’t the first time Hank and Mark performed trail magic together (What is trail magic, exactly? Learn more on our website.) They maintained trails with the Trail Center in the San Francisco Bay Area before. But in 2018, one off-trail meeting turned out to be trail kismet. After meeting over coffee to talk about donor opportunities, Hank, rising to leave, said in parting, “Let me know if anything interesting comes up.” Mark paused. “As a matter of fact, there is a property we could use your help on…”

It was a 640-acre parcel up for auction by a timber company. Without funds at the ready, PCTA was about to miss out on a conservation opportunity. Hank mulled it over, asked lots of questions to assuage his engineer’s mind, assembled a cohort of buyers including wife Cindy Jose and fellow Trail Center volunteer Larry Stites, and submitted the winning bid. The Picayune Lake acquisition was born.

The Picayune Lake property, as seen from the PCT in Northern California’s Trinity Divide. Photo by PCTA.

Like other PCTA Land Protection acquisitions, the next step to fully protecting the property was its transfer to a public entity—in this case, the Forest Service—or a land trust that could manage the land and its uses. For liability reasons, the Forest Service could not take the property with the cabin on it. Again, Hank and partners to the rescue: they split the property in half and kept the cabin with the lake. The other half went into public hands on July 29, 2022. It was a great solution.

Hank got the cabin he didn’t know he needed, and the Shasta-Trinity National Forest got the PCT.

To the celebration came longtime locals, reps from the Mount Shasta Trail Association, and a handful of Forest Service and PCTA staff. One of the attendees used to be the property’s caretaker for the timber company. Another had been fishing at Picayune Lake since childhood. Each visitor from the area recalled being at the cabin at some point over the decades for a holiday party or a summer barbeque. They marveled at how the paint job, new deck, and improvements spruced up the building, which remained much the same as in their mind’s eye over a lifetime of memories at Picayune Lake. The solar panel and wifi service appeared to be the only new conveniences.

The Picayune Lake cake created by Hank’s daughter Sarah. Photo by PCTA.

As the speeches and friendly thanks drew to a close, and before the thru-hikers donned their packs to continue their northbound journey, Hank’s daughter Sarah topped the celebration with a homemade cake replica of the property, topographically accurate in salted caramel buttercream. She captured each detail of the mostly forested property using crushed green shortbread for trees and graham crackers for the PCT. The cake made a perfect metaphor for the Picayune Lake acquisition: careful planning, the right combination of ingredients, and a little luck created a treat for everyone to enjoy.  It doesn’t get any sweeter than that.

Public-private conservation partnerships are essential to PCTA’s land protection strategy.  Want to learn more about the Land Protection Program and how you can help conserve the PCT corridor?  Contact Virginia Lorne, Conservation Project Manager, or Mark Waters, Associate Director of Philanthropy.

Author: Virginia Esperanza Lorne

Virginia Esperanza Lorne is PCTA’s Conservation Project Manager. A San Francisco native, Virginia studied conservation at U.C. Berkeley and Yale School of the Environment and has worked for the State of California and non-profits, starting at the CA Conservation Corps and coming most recently from Trust for Public Land and Laguna Ocean Foundation. She dreams of being out of a job when all the land along the PCT is permanently protected.