Winter camping on the West Shore | SierraSun.com

Winter camping on the West Shore

Andrew Cristancho
Sierra Sun

The morning sun bounces off the snow and into the eyes of Boy Scouts as they straighten up their winter camp.

The troop is one of many that come to Tahoma to visit Ed Z’berg-Sugar Pine State Park during the snowy months in Lake Tahoe. They come to receive points for merit badges and learn winter camping techniques, said 20-year state parks ranger Heidi Doyle.

The historical campground has been owned by the state since 1964, and is the only year-round campground in the Tahoe-Truckee area, Doyle said.

Originally the summer home of the Washoe tribe, the area became home to European-American settler, trapper and fisherman William “General” Phipps in 1865.

After Phipps, in 1903, the wealthy San Francisco financier Isaias Hellman built the Pine Lodge, also known as the Ehrman Mansion, Doyle said.

Today visitors can still view the mansion and Phipps’ cabin on the park grounds. They can also participate in a variety of activities hosted by park staff and volunteers.

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Besides Boy Scouts, winter campers include college students needing a cheap place to sleep while on a ski trip and outdoor enthusiasts looking for a unique experience or to hone their winter survival skills. The park has running water at each campsite and heated bathrooms throughout the winter, but Doyle warned that campers should bring a shovel to find their fire pits.

The property played host to Nordic events during the 1960 winter Olympic games, and was the initial site of the popular Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, Doyle said.

Park visitors fees provide only 29 percent of the park’s funding, the rest is made up by state funding, donations, and grants. Doyle said the park is short staffed and several positions remain open because of the high cost of living in Lake Tahoe.

The entire California state park system is faced with temporarily shuttering 48 of its parks because of Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed 10 percent reduction throughout state departments, said Sierra District Park Superintendent Pam Armas.

Designating almost 50 parks into, “caretaker status,” was a more viable alternative than cutting 10 percent from every park’s budget, she said.

“We are already at bare bones, so that would cripple us,” Armas said.

Two parks that will be temporarily closed if the cuts are made, will be Malakoff Diggins in Grass Valley and Plumas-Eureka State Park, near Graeagle, Armas said.

The cut which would begin on July 1, could reduce total funding for California’s parks by $13 million, said Doyle, which includes a 129 personnel reduction.

Armas said it costs $2.1 million annually to run all 10 area parks including Donner Memorial State Park in Truckee.

A volunteer organization helps to subsidize those and others as far south as Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve.

In 2007, the Sierra State Parks Foundation raised $300,000 for the eight parks in their area including $40,000 for the Sugar Pine site, according to Executive Director Susan Fitzgerald Reichert.

Fifth largest of 80 California state parks “cooperating associations,” the Sierra State Parks Foundation actually started when a group of “concerned citizens,” including then Sierra Sun newspaper editor, Rod Stollery, were looking to preserve the Pine Lodge, which was set to be torn down, Fitzgerald Reichert said.

“They saved it,” she said. The small group of preservationists has grown into a foundation contracted by the state to help with funding which allows programs that focus on, “education, interpretation, preservation and restoration,” she said. Much of the money comes from gift shop sales.

“We deal with visitor services; people that do hikes, and staff the interpretive centers,” she said. “Without us that would not be happening, that is why we hate these budget cuts.”

Thanks a local business association, park visitors can now ski almost 13 miles of groomed Olympic cross country ski trails, a service that was defunct for nearly five years, Doyle said.

The equipment was purchased and donated in 2006 by members of the West Shore Association, said association member David Antonucci.

The trails had been groomed in the past and the state parks had been using the equipment that Olympic personnel had given them, he said. The equipment finally broke down from age a few years ago and, with no money to fix it, the grooming ceased. Antonucci, who skis the trails daily, said the course is great for families looking for a bargain at $6 per car load and free skiing.

He said a combination of park staff and volunteers operate the equipment which now includes the snowmobile and grooming implements purchased by the West Shore Association, and a snowcat donated from the Plumas-Eureka park.