History: Rails to Trails and beyond — Truckee River bike path
Special to the Sierra Sun
Thank the Lake Tahoe Railway and Transportation Company for making a space for the present bike path from Tahoe City to River Ranch. The Bliss family built and operated the railroad between Truckee and Tahoe City from 1900 until 1923. Then the Southern Pacific railroad took it over and operated it until World War II. Little did Duane L. Bliss and his family know that their roadbed would help build a bicycle trail from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake.
You can enjoy this trail and travel from the Sierra’s cool forest to Nevada’s warmer high desert. Some of the trail is on pavement suitable for road bikes and some is on more rugged mountain biking trails. So, get your bikes and be ready for fun!
The Tahoe-Pyramid Trail follows much of the route of the old Lake Tahoe Railway and Transportation Company railroad to the Town of Truckee and then parallels the Union Pacific Railroad tracks all the way to Wadsworth, Nevada.
Construction of the 114-mile trail consists of many sections and has a total elevation drop of approximately 2,400 feet. Some sections are completed, some are being changed and some have obstacles to overcome.
Lake Tahoe to Truckee
This first section began thirty years after the Lake Tahoe railroad closed. The Tahoe City Public Utility District proposed a plan to turn the old railroad roadbed along California Highway 89 into a bicycle path. That became the first part of the Tahoe City to Truckee bike path.
If you want to start at the top of the trail, drive to the Tahoe City Transit Center and park your car there. (Alternatively, you can put your bike on the free Tahoe Truckee Area Regional Transportation (TART) bus to the Transit Center.) Then take the trail down the Truckee River all the way to the Squaw Valley turnoff. This beautiful section is a fun bicycle ride or walk along the path shaded by pine trees and cooled by the river.
Some of this bike path was completed when Placer County Supervisor Cindy Gustafson was general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utility. Cindy says the first Class 1 bike trails project began in the 1970’s at the public utility and was the vision of then General Manager Bill Briner. The trail was phased in over a number of years first to Alpine Meadows and then to Squaw Valley.
The extension to Truckee was being discussed by Placer County while Cindy was working on the trail segment connecting to Squaw Valley. The path from Squaw Valley Road to West River Street descends slowly toward Truckee and it’s currently more challenging because it’s on the shoulder of California Highway 89. A safer, off-highway route is being developed by Placer County.
To improve the trail, the County is currently working on the Truckee River Recreational Access plan. The plan covers eight miles from the Squaw Valley Road to the Placer County line near West River Street in the Town of Truckee. The path will roughly trace the route of the old railroad.
While still in the planning stage, project manager Kansas McGahan said several options to avoid private property are being considered. The new trail could go on either the west or east side of the river and the plan includes more than the bike path. It also includes corridor restoration and areas for the general public. The implementation of the five different parts of this section will depend on availability of funds.
The section from the Placer County line to the current Legacy trail is being redesigned by the Town of Truckee. A paved bike trail and bike lane is being planned on the south side of the Truckee River from the county border through Truckee Springs to Brockway Road and up to Palisades Drive. The bike lane along South River Street and up Brockway Road is currently under construction. The trail crosses Brockway Road at Palisades Drive and finally connects with the Legacy trail at the Truckee River Regional Park.
The Truckee Town Council has approved much of this route in cooperation with the Truckee Donner Land Trust. The Land Trust has acquired Truckee Springs and plans to make it a natural open space for public enjoyment. The new extension of the Legacy trail will be along the river, in the woods, and away from automobile traffic.
Today the bike path travels West River Street on the north side of the Truckee River. Once you’ve reached the end of West River Street, turn right at Brockway Road and go across the bridge and up the hill to the Palisades Drive intersection.
The Legacy Trail east along the Truckee River was started by the Truckee Rotary Club in 1998 when a foundation was organized to build the trail. They began construction in 2001 building a bike path along the river toward Truckee’s Glenshire neighborhood. The first portion was completed in 2004. The Town of Truckee supported much of the work until 2015. At that time, Dan Wilkens – the Town’s Public Works Director said the Town helped build the pedestrian bridge from West River Street across the Truckee River to the Legacy trail. The Town of Truckee then took over the trail’s further development and maintenance. The Town is now highly involved in making it an important trail within the Town limits.
From the Palisades intersection you can cross at the signal and follow the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail signs through the Truckee River Regional Park to the Legacy trail. You’ll enjoy this pleasant trail shaded by trees along the Truckee River.
After about ten miles you’ll reach the bottom of a hill. There the trail leaves the river and goes up to the Truckee neighborhood of Glenshire. At the top of the hill, follow the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail signs to Glenshire Drive. Continue on Glenshire Drive to its east end. At the bottom of Glenshire drive and turn right on Hirschdale Road.
Building the Rest of the Trail
The trail continues from the lower Truckee River canyon to Verdi, Sparks and finally Pyramid Lake. Portions are mountain bike trails which are great in the winter since it is usually snow free. There are a couple of unconnected sections where the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail organization is involved in delicate negotiations with both land owners and the Union Pacific. The Tahoe-Pyramid Trail organization has a website with detailed maps and travel information for all the completed sections (https://tahoepyramidtrail.org). Signs mark the trail so pick your section, get a bike and explore our beautiful area!
Jerry Blackwill is president of the Truckee Donner Railroad Society and chairman of the new Museum of Truckee History. He also likes to hike and bike old railroad roadbeds
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