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The Tahoe National Forest is conducting an environmental review to expand the existing Donner Summit Sno-Park into the Pacific Crest Trailhead.

The review was prompted by a proposal by the state of California’s Department of Parks and Recreation Sno-Park Program, a program which allows for an increased opportunity for backcountry access by providing parking.

According to Truckee Ranger District officials, the expansion would include the design and installment of a pavement structure to overlay the existing Pacific Crest trailhead parking lot and access roads and add 56 plowed parking spaces to the 70 that are already available to winter recreation users.

The state plans to provide for snow removal, spring litter removal, toilet maintenance, user education and longer term pavement maintenance, said officials.

“The project was triggered in part by the loss of 50 plowed parking spaces at the Cisco Grove Sno-Park which closed during the winter of 98-99 when the property owner withdrew from their agreement with the Sno-Park program,” said recreation and lands officer Rick Maddalena. He said the demand for backcountry access is exceeding the parking availability.

The area that can be accessed from the Donner Summit Sno-Park and Pacific Crest trailhead along the Boreal frontage road are shared by backcountry skiers, snowshoers, hut and snow camping and snowmobiling.

“Back country skiing continues to see limited growth due largely to the evolution of equipment. Snowshoeing is on a rapid growth rate as both a sport in itself and as a means to facilitate access to backcountry slopes for skiing and snowboarding,” said Maddalena.

When there is snow cover and the weather is good, the existing parking lot is frequently filled by 10 a.m on winter weekends and holidays beginning typically at Thanksgiving and lasting usually through mid-April, or May and June in some years. The spill over parking from this lot has created a number of problems for Boreal Mountain Playground on peak days, said Maddalena.

Boreal has donated land along the frontage road for the Sno-Park program and is looking forward to the proposed expansion.

“We’re really supportive of the whole idea of the expansion,” said Mike Hindrichs, vice president of mountain operations.

The demand for parking is expected to consume the new proposed parking capacity on most of the peak winter days. Maddalena said there is an expected increase in participation for a number of reasons which include a continued growth in the number of backcountry skiers, boarders and showshoers; continued technological advances that support the growth in the number of participants; and a resurgence of interest in expanded parking from those who were displaced by the limited number of spaces in the existing Sno-Park.

The ranger district figures that with an assumed average of 2.3 people per car, new peak backcountry use is expected to increase from 160 people to 290 people at one time. Most recreational users will be in the Castle Valley, Round Valley areas, with some exploring Castle Peak, Basin Peak, and areas east of Boreal and Donner Ski Ranch resorts.

With the new parking availability, there could be as many as 2,800 new visitors to the area per winter.

Maddalena said he does not expect to see increased snowmobile use in the area because the Pacific Crest trailhead parking lot is on the south side of the freeway, and the recreational area begins on the north side. Riders would have to unload sleds and equipment on the north side of the freeway and park on the south side, which would involve leaving a guard with the equipment, while the partner parks the vehicle.

This would be a great inconvenience, said Maddalena.

The ranger district believes that because the proposed action calls only for repaving an existing parking lot which will be plowed for winter parking, the potential for direct effects of the project on site biological resources is very low.

Instead, district officials will focus their attention on the indirect effects of having up to 2,800 mew visitors per winter in the area.

The ranger district expects the analysis process to be completed by June. For information or to comment, call Maddalena at 587-3558.

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