Reno turns back to the river

  • Downtown Reno: A river of gambling

    Kit Miller
  • Reno backs up to the Truckee River

    Peter Goin

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, Learning from Las Vegas, in a special issue about the Great Basin.

"The Truckee River is the lifeblood of northern Nevada," says photographer Peter Goin, an art professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. "Yet look at how we treat it. We treat it like it's the sewer. We turn our backs on it. We design our buildings in such a way that it's behind us, not in front of us."

Goin usually lets his photographs speak for themselves. Last year, his contemporary photographic study of the Truckee River was acquired by the Library of Congress. The 150 photographs show a bleak, industrial river, its shores inhabited by homeless road warriors who mark their camps with skull and crossbones and messages such as "Keep out or go to jail wounded."

Goin's photographs stare at the river and city. Goin, a rebel against the Sierra Club school of "beautiful photographs" of landscapes worth saving, says he strives to make his photographs "as disturbing as the sites that have been disturbed." He wants viewers to pay attention to the "visual sensiblity of place" so that they can change it. "After all," he says, "we are a visual culture and we define our sense of place, in part, by how it looks."

"We turned our back to the river and our face to the street," says Susan Lynn, the chairwoman of a city redevelopment agency committee that is trying to resuscitate the Truckee River corridor which runs through the heart of downtown Reno. "But there's no reason they can't go together," she says. "We have a keen sense of having lost the community center as gaming has taken over downtown. We hope to integrate them, to pull locals closer to downtown and pull tourists from the gaming core to the river."

Lynn has organized a group of volunteers called the Truckee River Yacht Club to do cleanup projects and advocate for the river. The city has built a pedestrian river walk and bike path along the banks of the Truckee. The redevelopment agency has earmarked funds and tax breaks to reopen the abandoned Riverside Hotel and to bring small retail businesses and restaurants to the riverfront.

Last year, the Washoe County commission voted in favor of in-stream flow requirements to keep the river running all year. And one of the only bright spots in recent negotiations among warring parties on the river was an agreement by the county to store water upstream for release during periods of low flows to maintain water quality in the river. Restoration projects are taking place along the river from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake.

These changes brighten even Peter Goin's grim outlook. "Can we change our vision of the Truckee River?" he asks. "I think it is changing right now."