Traveling Future Trails
Recently, the Town of Truckee witnessed an outpouring of public involvement over something that may seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things ” to pave or not to pave the Truckee River Legacy Trail.
As the region faces continuing major development, grapples with environmental challenges and works to maintain a tourism-driven economy, something as simple as the surface of a trail may come across as trivial. But here’s the thing: In
the Truckee-Tahoe area, trails are important.
“To me, trails contribute to the economic, the environmental and the social health of a community,” says Leigh Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Truckee Trails Foundation.
In a region that trades on its natural splendor, access to the outdoors by trail is an valuable asset to the economy.
“Trails are vital for our economics by adding desirability to the area for visitors,” Fitzpatrick says.
While the environmental desirability of using petroleum-based pavement on the Legacy Trail was hotly debated, the benefits of alternative transportation for the environment are more clear.
“I always tell people, if we want to keep the stars shining brighter in Truckee, we have to get people out of their cars,” Fitzpatrick says. “We have to have these trails to improve environmental quality.”
Even the issue of development is tied to trails, as the Town of Truckee partners with the proponents of new subdivisions to create trail connections.
The Tahoe City Public Utility District first conducted a survey of trail users in 1994, and updates the information annually, says Cindy Gustafson, the district’s assistant general manager.
“Our trails are our most heavily used recreation facilities: We get over 400,000 users per year, and that continues to grow,” Gustafson says.
And while the trails are considered a recreational facility, the study found not everybody uses them purely for recreation. Seventy percent of those surveyed said they were commuting to work, school, restaurants, shopping, or other recreation areas, while only 30 percent said they were there for recreation alone, Gustafson says.
“So much of the traffic in our community is going to a recreation site, so if we can get more off the road it’s helpful,” she says, emphasizing the overall benefits of trails in the area. “They are very, very important as a quality-of-life issue for residents and visitors, the ability to walk or ride into town is very important.”
Looking into the future, local agencies from Truckee to the North Shore ” and interest groups as far away as Reno ” will be working to connect neighborhoods, towns and regions with trails for recreation and alternative transportation.
With trails in place connecting Tahoe City to Dollar Hill and Tahoe Vista to Kings Beach, the last major connection to be built on the lake side of the Truckee-Tahoe triangle is Tahoe Vista to Dollar Hill.
The North Tahoe Public Utility District has begun planning the roughly eight- to 10-mile connection, said General Manager Steven Rogers.
Working with a $960,000 California Tahoe Conservancy grant, the district is exploring routes, alternatives and environmental implications, Rogers said.
“We hope to have the environmental work done in two-and-a-half or three years, and start construction in three years,” Rogers said. “I don’t know how long construction could take, it could be a one-season project, but I get the feeling it would be a multi-year project.”
While the Tahoe City utility district has constructed trails from Dollar Hill to Tahoe City, Homewood to Tahoe City, and Tahoe City to Squaw Valley, no connection currently exists between those three trails inside of Tahoe City itself, said district General Manager Cindy Gustafson.
She said the district’s goal is to complete that final link in the chain by 2009.
Currently a trail connects Tahoe City to Squaw Valley along the Truckee River, one of the most popular trails in the region.
A continuation of the paved trail to Squaw Valley could extend all the way to Truckee along the Truckee River, said the Truckee Trails Foundation’s Leigh Fitzpatrick.
“The route is still in discussion, the concerns of property owners along 89 still need to be addressed,” Fitzpatrick said.
Placer County will be the lead agency on the construction of the roughly 10-mile trail, said Steve Teshara, executive director of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.
Ron Treabess, director of community partnership and planning for the resort association, said those planning the important link must address environmental issues, the trail alignment and private property concerns.
“The trail will attempt to follow the river versus the highway, but with some of the property owners in some areas the trail will have to be more in alignment with the highway,” Treabess said.
He said Truckee would then extend the Legacy Trail to meet up with the Placer County project.
“For Truckee, the big one is definitely the Legacy Trail,” said Leigh Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Truckee Trails Foundation. “It binds the eastern and western reaches of Truckee.”
Divided into five phases, the Legacy Trail will eventually stretch from the east end of Donner Lake to Glenshire.
The first phase through the Truckee River Regional Park was paved in 2001, according to legacytrail.org.
After recent approval from the Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District board and Truckee Town Council, the town will pave the second phase, from the regional park east to the River View Sports Park, this summer, said Truckee Public Works Director Dan Wilkins.
Wilkins said phase three (from the sports park to Glenshire) is undergoing environmental review, leaving final design and construction for the future, while phase four (from the regional park to Highway 89 south) is in the preliminary engineering phase.
Phase five, which would connect Highway 89 south to the eastern Donner Lake area, will come online later when the Mousehole project and the Coldstream development break ground, Wilkins said.
Altogether, Wilkins said the Legacy trail will span about six miles from one end to the other.
Connecting Truckee to Northstar and then to the Tahoe Basin, the third leg in the Truckee Tahoe triangle will require the most interagency cooperation.
The Northstar Community Services District will construct a trail from the edge of Truckee across the Martis Valley, past Northstar and up to “four corners” on the Tahoe Basin’s rim, said General Manager Mike Staudenmayer.
“We will be working in two phases ” one from the county line through Martis Valley along the highway and up to Northstar, and the second, with a spur into the Northstar Village, up the mountain to the top of the Basin,” Staudenmayer said.
He estimated that some construction could begin by next summer, but said 2009 is a more likely starting date.
“We did a community survey and found that the trail has overwhelming support,” Staudenmayer said.
The North Tahoe Public Utility District will connect to the trail from Tahoe Vista, said the district’s General Manager Steven Rogers.
Finally, the town of Truckee, possibly working with future developments such as Joerger Ranch, would connect the Highway 267 and Legacy trails to complete the triangle, said Dan Wilkins, Town of Truckee Public Works director .
The Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway will span 116 miles along the Truckee River from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake, connecting existing roads and trails where possible.
The route will descend over 2,000 feet from the Tahoe Basin to Lake Pyramid, crossing through public and private land in two states, five counties, the Paiute tribal reservation, and three federal agencies, according to http://www.tpbikeway.org.
President Janet Phillips of the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway said the next step will be a connection between Floriston and Farad, planned for 2008.
The 2-mile section will include pieces of the old Lincoln Highway, Phillips said.
The remaining California segments would be Floriston to the Glenshire area of Truckee, and Farad to the state line, Phillips said.
“Future sections in the Truckee River canyon will present a lot of challenging structural work, like two bridges,” she said. “The trail has two major variables ” easements and money.”