Lake Tahoe Forest Service seeks input on backcountry access policy |

Lake Tahoe Forest Service seeks input on backcountry access policy

Sebastian Foltz
Mount Tallac (pictured), near Emerald Bay, is a popular backcountry ski destination. Area backcountry users say it has become less accessible due to winter road closures.
Courtesy / U.S. Forest Service |

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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — For many backcountry skiers and snowmobilers, the U.S. Forest Service’s current winter land use policy is an outdated one. It’s something the Forest Service may soon address.

“I think people are frustrated,” longtime South Shore resident and newly formed Tahoe Backcountry Alliance member Todd Offenbacher said in an interview earlier this winter. “Backcountry skiers have had it. They’ve seen more and more taken away. … It’s access to public land that in theory is inaccessible.”

Their voice is one they feel has gone unheard as some popular access roads have been gated, making reaching winter trailheads on Forest Service land a challenge.

“I walked for a half an hour today on asphalt from Highway 89 to the snow to ski Mount Tallac,” fellow skier and small business owner Mike Schwartz said, describing one of three roads or parking lots that are either gated or not maintained in the winter — each of which used to be open.

“The Fallen Leaf Lake Road trailhead to Desolation Wilderness (accessible in summertime) is 5 miles from Highway 89,” Schwartz added, citing another example. “There is parking at the fire station back there where the public used to park.”

Access issues such as those are among concerns the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the U.S. Forest Service plans to review through upcoming public input sessions that could lead to winter policy revisions.

The first meeting will be held on the South Shore Tuesday, March 29, from 5-7 p.m. at the forest supervisor’s office off of Al Tahoe Boulevard (35 College Way), followed by a Kings Beach open house April 5 at the North Tahoe Event Center in Kings Beach.

“We want to have the public come in and tell us what they want before we get started with the formal process,” Forest Service spokeswoman Lisa Herron said. “Right now it’s in the preliminary stages.”

Department planning staffer Denise Downie suggested that a proposed action could be developed by the fall of 2016 following public comment.

Any proposed action would then have to be put through environmental review. When specific changes could occur remains unclear.

In addition to backcountry skiers, the Forest Service is seeking input from all motorized and non-motorized winter users such as snowmobilers, snowshoers, winter bikers and cross-country skiers. Input regarding parking and other access issues will also be accepted.

“The sports have changed,” planning staff officer Michael LeFevre said in an earlier interview, describing the Forest Service’s intent to adapt. LeFevre also acknowledged that existing policy has “been pretty much in place for 30 years now.”

Part of the effort behind the Forest Service initiative is also to clarify snowmobile policy.

In an open letter to the public, Tahoe Forest Service supervisor Jeff Marsolais said, “This process will result in the development of a LTBMU Over-Snow Vehicle Use Map and improved motorized and non-motorized winter recreation opportunities for visitors. This project is intended to be a comprehensive winter recreation planning effort.”

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