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Truckee River Is Local Jewel, But It Wasn't Always That Way

The scenic Truckee River, which winds through downtown Reno, is now considered a valuable asset, but it wasn’t always that way.  Reno Public Radio’s Anh Gray takes a look back at how the river was once overlooked.

Back in the late 1860s, the Central Pacific Railroad connected Sacramento to Nevada.  The new town of Reno was eventually developed to accommodate the emerging commerce popping up around that railroad crossing. Local historian Alicia Barbersays that became Reno’s identity.

“Reno was a railroad town," Barber says. "There were a couple of early businesses like the Riverside Hotel, which we still have that face the river and capitalized on it, but for the most part it really wasn’t considered the focus.”

Then in 1931 Nevada lawmakers legalized gambling in the state.  Barber says casinos became synonymous with the word downtown. But over the last few decades, there’s been a cultural shift. 

“That scenic value or that value of being somewhere beautiful becomes more and more attractive," Barber says. "There’s much more of an emphasis on the environment and on the kayak park.”

Unlike the past, Barber says the river is now viewed as more central to downtown.

“It really has been the civic heart of the city for decades and decades," Barber says. "It’s where our county courthouse is; it’s where the post office was traditionally located; it’s where a lot of our federal buildings are in that area around the river.”

As “The Biggest Little City in the World” continues to evolve, local businesses and city officials have been working to transform Reno’s image. Barber says the Truckee River is essential to this effort of branding downtown as a place to visit, work and live. 

Anh Gray is a former contributing editor at KUNR Public Radio.
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