Nevada History by John C. Evanoff is excited to present this series of articles by noted author and poet, John C. Evanoff. John will tell us about Nevada history and cover some of the more remote and unusual things to see and do in Northern Nevada.

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Favorite Treks of Reno #3 of 10

November, 2009
By John Evanoff

November in the Truckee Meadows cannot be matched anywhere else on the east side of the Sierra Nevada for the changes in the colors of the trees and the perfect touch of autumn in the air. Thanksgiving is truly remarkable when it is spent with family and friends in Reno and vicinity, plus you get to walk off that huge turkey dinner with a casual stroll around Idlewild Park. My top ten favorite walks, hikes and treks would not be complete without saying something about the walk along the Truckee River at Idlewild. More to the point, the walk around Idlewild Park and down Riverside Drive is well worth the time and the memories of Reno’s past. First of all, find a place to park near the California Building which was built in 1926 for the Transcontinental Highway Exposition of 1927 in honor of the completion of the Lincoln and Victory Highways. At the time of the exposition, the park, built over two years from 1925 to 1927, was full of huge exhibit tents, grandstands, carnival rides and several temporary buildings that served the purpose of telling the story of the construction of these highways across the United States. One exhibit tent held more than fifty cars hot off the original auto assembly lines in Detroit. The Victory Highway was built primarily over the great National Road and traversed across what is the current Highway 80 through Nevada. The Lincoln Highway was the culmination of many moves of new and old roads to cross twelve states and more than 3,100 miles. Now called the Loneliest Road in the America, Highway 50, it stretched some 270 miles through the middle of Nevada and is my favorite for trips to such places as Fallon, Austin, Eureka and Ely. The parallel roads of the Victory and Lincoln competed against each other for traffic through Nevada at one time and ended up coming together through the Truckee Meadows. The Lincoln Highway, originally Highway 40 and now called Interstate 80, is used by just about everyone in the Truckee Meadows to get to points east and west from Reno, but the original Lincoln/Victory Highway actually runs along East and West 4th Street through Reno, Third Street through Verdi and Victorian Avenue in Sparks. The Transcontinental Highway Exposition was a great success attracting thousands of people from all over the country, but mostly by train. The automobile was just beginning its inception as a major mode of travel and it was still tough traveling more than a couple hundred miles a day. Gas stations were few and far between. The highways brought money to the stops along the way and Reno was one of the first town to take advantage of the needs of these old buggies with rather large garages built exclusively to aid auto visitors. Several large tire and maintenance shops were built along the entire length of 4th Street and gas stations and motor lodges sprang up everywhere along the route. The only remnant of the exposition that lasted six weeks in July and August of 1927 is the building that was produced by the State of California just for the event and of course the park itself. Most of the architectural plans for Idlewild Park were produced with the intent of producing a one of a kind exposition. The park was an immense undertaking from its very beginnings. Acquired from the estate of Francis Newlands who promoted the Newlands Project, a vast federal water and dam project throughout the west, the park became a reality when the San Francisco architect, Donald McClaren, who designed the landscaping for the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition donated his time courtesy of the State of California to design Idlewild. McClaren also later designed Wingfield Park downtown. With many large donations from entrepreneurs in the region, Idlewild was constructed. More than two hundred large trees were planted including forty-five pines along the Truckee River. With money raised by automobile industry tycoons and the State of California, tents and buildings were erected for the exposition. Some of the more prominent citizens of Reno put together funds and had an arch built at Virginia Street next to the Railroad tracks with the inscription “Reno Nevada’s Transcontinental Highway Exposition, July 25th – August 11th 1927.” The Commercial Street ventures and hotels filled every day of the event with visitors, many of whom had never been to or through Reno. It was the first of three arches to be built at that intersection. The original neon and iron arch, which was the second arch and that first proclaimed the Biggest Little City now sets across Lake Street next to the Truckee River. The California Building still stands as a proud symbol of that momentous exposition and has been used for functions throughout Reno’s illustrious history as well as today for everything from square dancing to campaign victory parties. The adjacent Rose Garden is amazing in the summer for its colors and sweet scent and lends an attractive backdrop to many weddings. The building, owned by the City of Reno, is also noteworthy because it is on the National Registry of Historical Places. All of the hoopla of the exposition brought Reno into the national limelight and soon after, because of the increased auto traffic, the railroad town grew into a prospering city and with the advent of gambling, easy divorces and marriages, into the Biggest Little City in the World.

If you were to look back at certain times at the park and surrounding area, Idlewild included a zoo, a fifty Quonset-hut Civilian Conservation Corps camp during the depression, a large Boy Scout camp and a trout fish hatchery. A hydroelectric generator was built years earlier and still currently sits near Booth Street. You could skate in the winter on the lower pond and every year until the late 1950’s, a fishing derby was held at the beginning of every summer. The park was a favorite for kids learning to swim every summer at Idlewild Municipal Pool and was the place I earned my life guard certificate which I never used. Many kids also played little league at the park at one of three diamonds and still today, many of those who are now adults play softball there.

The park lies along a large bend in the Truckee River and as such is part of the City of Reno Parks and Trails project to eventually bring all the trails from throughout the Truckee Meadows to the greenbelt along the river. The paved pathway will eventually link Verdi in the west all the way to Vista at the east end of the valley. The route now consists of paved paths, dirt trails and streets. Every year in April, the park is home to Reno’s Earth Day Celebration. The park is also on the route of the annual Journal Jog every September.

Walking or biking through the park and along the many paths, you get a great workout and fantastic scenery. The walk around the park and east to the Booth Street Bridge and down Riverside Drive to Wingfield Park and back is a classic. At different times in the fall, the changing colors of the maples and elms, and the crisp aroma of pine and the Truckee River give you respite from any tribulations and will bring an enthusiasm back into your step. This is the path that reminds you Reno is definitely the City of Trembling Leaves.

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