75 Years: Tenacity, collaboration fuel TCPUD Parks and Rec

Laura Read
Special to the Sun
Free live music concerts at Commons Beach draw hundreds of people for dancing and enjoyment every Sunday in summer.
Courtesy Ron Richman |

EDITOR’S NOTE: In December, the Tahoe City Public Utility District celebrates its 75th anniversary. To honor the milestone, the district and Sierra Sun have partnered on a multi-part story series that will run periodically through Labor Day weekend. This is the fourth installment. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — As the sun lit up Lake Tahoe one morning in August 1980, volunteers entered a Tahoe City meadow armed with shovels and picks. Their mission: to create new playing fields needed by the region’s young athletes.

The Tahoe City Public Utility District had spent two years getting four agency approvals, but recently a fifth agency had threatened to squash the venture.

This did not sit well with North Tahoe parents. In plucky mountain style, they hatched a stealthy plan, and on the weekend of Aug. 2, 250 volunteers built a park for their kids.

For months afterward, irate regulators searched for culprits. No one would name names, and finally the regulators gave in. Locals called the new place Pomin Park, honoring Robert Pomin, a TCPUD director.

While the district did not have an official presence that weekend, it has summoned the same grit and collaboration in championing the West Shore’s public spaces and activities.

The district first plunged into parks management in 1947 when it assumed maintenance of Commons Beach from Placer County.

The lakefront parcel, deeded by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872 to “the People of Tahoe City,” needed constant upkeep, and when Placer County wasn’t fulfilling this duty, the PUD’s first manager, Bill Vernon, shouldered the job.

After the 1960 Olympics, as West Shore communities expanded, residents wanted enrichment programs that everyone could enjoy.

In a survey of ratepayers in 1969, the district asked if it should expand its mission to include organizing public activities and park management. Ratepayers voted “yes.”

Thus followed a surge in activities and classes, including an adult softball league, a sailing camp, and an outdoor day camp called Camp Skylandia, a beloved summertime tradition for both locals and second homeowners.

Today, every year the parks and rec department engages more than one million residents and visitors from all over the world.

With a budget of $2 million, department staff members manage a kaleidoscope of facilities, including seven athletic fields, nine community parks, three beach parks, one boat ramp, five community buildings, five playgrounds, 22 miles of paved multi-use trails, six tennis courts, one dog park, one golf course, one campground and Truckee River ingress and egress ramps.

A catalogue of district activities —29 pages this year — presents classes for art, science, music, soccer, volleyball, paddleboard, swimming and pickleball.

Most district-maintained parks are owned by different entities, such as the U.S. Forest Service, Placer County or California State Parks, all of which have maintenance and operation agreements with the PUD.

That’s one place where collaboration comes into play.

The district’s tenacity has to do with the extraordinary commitment from board members and staff. Without their public outreach and problem solving, life in Tahoe City would be significantly less exciting.

Tahoe City’s Lakeside Trail is a prime example of the multi-faceted work, according to parks and rec director Bob Bolton. Conceived 40 years ago, the paved path extends from 64 Acres across Highway 89 and the Tahoe City Dam, along Commons Beach and the Tahoe City Marina, and in front of Boatworks Mall.

It curves through aspen groves, under shady cliffs and past a lively marina that few visitors previously experienced. The trail’s beauty belies the enormous efforts that went into coordinating nine property owners and 12 nonprofit and government funders.

From preliminary design through two environmental documents and much fundraising, the whole undertaking took 20 years. Construction took 11 years.

One of the trail’s jewels is Commons Beach. Because of its many features (playground, picnic spot, beach, grass), the beach is the heart of town.

Hosting free summer concerts and outdoor movies, as well as kayak and paddleboard rentals requires partnerships with the Tahoe City Downtown Agency, Placer County and local businesses such as Tahoe City Kayak. Collaboration is key.

Across town, the district has remodeled a new place, Rideout Community Center. There’s a community garden outside, and a full-size commercial kitchen inside.

At night, adult basketball and volleyball fill the gymnasium, and during the day, the sounds of children’s enrichment programs echo in the halls.

From the hour that manager Bill Vernon became the Commons Beach maintenance man to the moment today’s general manager, Cindy Gustafson, inaugurated the Lakeside Trail, the TCPUD has elevated North Tahoe’s quality of life.

Just like the 1872 gift of Commons Beach that President Grant gave to the people of Tahoe City, and the volunteer parents’ gutsy efforts at Pomin Park, the district’s parks and rec programs have changed lives and are soundly fixed in history.

For 22 years, Tahoe City writer Laura Read has biked, paddled, picnicked, danced and skate-skied on facilities managed by the TCPUD.

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