Trailing Away | SierraSun.com

Trailing Away

Annie Flanzraich
Sun News Service
Emma Garrard/Sun file photoWith the snow-covered mountains in the background, a kayaker paddles out on the calm water of Lake Tahoe.
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Kayaking on Lake Tahoe has been part of Shauna Seager’s life for the past decade.

“It is one of the most amazing experiences in the world,” said Seager, an Incline Village resident attending the University of California, Berkeley.

While out on the crystal waters, Seager said she respects private property and makes sure to keep her land stops to public areas.

“I would not want to chill out on someone’s beach because it’s awkward for me and for them,” Seager said. “I think there’s a respect and a general awareness of other people’s property and that it’s not a party place.”

That respectful mentality is not present in all kayakers, said Jan Brisco, executive director of the Tahoe Lakefront Owners’ Association. Privacy issues are among the concerns some property owners have about a water trail around Lake Tahoe.

Brisco said homeowners also have environmental and safety concerns.

Last year, the California Legislature looked at a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Ted Gaines that would have created a kayak and canoe trail around the lake. The bill stalled in committee, but brought to light the use of non-motorized vessels on Tahoe.

A 2002 voter survey found 24 percent of the boat use on the lake was non-motorized craft, according to Sue Rae Irelan, a spokeswoman for the California Tahoe Conservancy. That number was up from 8 percent in a 1995 study.

Now Irelan and representatives from a number of land management agencies and stakeholders in the water trail have formed a new working group. The group ” which ranges from California and Nevada state parks, the Tahoe Conservancy, property owners, U.S. Forest Service and other non-governmental organizations ” is not an official arm of any agency, rather a compilation of different representatives with an interest in the water trail.

At its first meeting Feb. 29, the working group talked about creating a survey to understand non-motorized boat use in Lake Tahoe.

“It’s a mistake to think of it as a superficial question,” said Irelan, who is acting as a spokeswoman for the Lake Tahoe Water Trail Working Group. “There is one level where it seems so very simple and easy with people in kayaks. But it is rubbing elbows with a lot of other issues that people care about very much.”

One of those primary issues for lakefront owners is the necessity of a water trail and even a working group about a water trail, especially since neither state has officially designated a water trail on Lake Tahoe.

“We think it’s putting the cart before the horse,” said Sarah Ellis, the government affairs director for the Incline Village Board of Realtors. “They need legislation to designate the water trail and it seems like they skipped that process.”

For the California side of the issue, Assemblyman Gaines’ bill ” AB1227 ” aimed to enact the California Lake Tahoe Water Trail Act, which would establish linkages between public access points on the lake. The bill, said Gaines’ Chief of Staff Steve Davey, stalled last year, but may be reintroduced in 2008. It would make the California Tahoe Conservancy the chief agency for planning the trail.

Davey, however, said Gaines is aware of the concerns of lakeside homeowners.

“The bill has been amended several times to make sure it has very strong private property rights,” Davey said.

Regardless of such language, the reality of people kayaking and canoeing around the lake exists whether or not an official water trail is designated, Irelan said.

Especially when there have been trail maps published and organizations formed around the idea.

“We need to be recognizing that people are using the lake with kayaks and we need to treat it like it’s a trail whether or not someone designates it and puts in on a map that way,” Irelan said.

Lakefront homeowners are not trying to eliminate kayaking, Brisco said. Rather they are trying to encourage responsible kayaking, especially when it comes to safety, the environment and private property rights.

The idea of private property rights becomes gray within the high and low water marks of the lake. On the Nevada side of the lake the area between the high and low water line can be owned by a private property or by the state.

California established a public trust for the area between the high and low water line, making it more accessible. The high water mark is 6,229 feet elevation and the low water mark is 6,223 feet elevation.

This delineation can become confusing for kayakers and can lead to trespassing, Brisco said.

Still she said there could be a compromise between homeowners and respectful kayakers.

“I’ve talked to homeowners who are OK with kayakers who take an hour for lunch and pick up their trash and leave the area better than when they arrived,” Brisco said. “The problem is when they leave trash, or let their dog loose to relieve itself on the property.”

Kayakers might also not be aware of endangered plant species around the lake that homeowners and other agencies try to protect, Brisco said. She also cited the worry of bringing quagga muscles and other non-indigenous invasive plant and animal species into the lake.

Finally, there is the concern of safety on the lake, especially when the winds kick up or in relation to other watercraft, Brisco said.

These concerns are part of the working group’s agenda, Irelan said.

“This is a way for those of us who have recreation responsibilities to communicate with ourselves about how we can do a better job with the use that is here,” Irelan said.

Not talking about non-motorized boat use on Lake Tahoe could lead to other people and organizations trying to fill the vacuum of leadership and education. Irelan and Brisco pointed to “Kayaking Tahoe (The Unofficial Guide)” published in 2007 that tells readers how to camouflage camps on private lands.

“If we don’t do something as public land managers that provides better information and solves problems, (this book) is what will be available,” Irelan said.

Homeowners do not want to see a vacuum in leadership, Brisco said. Rather they are looking for the different agencies involved to critically think about the water trail’s necessity and purpose.

“We’re not trying to stop anything,” Brisco said. “We’re trying to make sure that we’ve looked at this clearly before we start doing anything official.”