To pave or not to pave the Truckee River trail |

To pave or not to pave the Truckee River trail

Recently there has been a lot of buzz about the Truckee River trail (aka the Legacy Trail) and what its purpose should be.

Is it a nature trail providing unique access to the Truckee River? Or is it the alternative transportation route that finally gives residents in Truckee’s largest full-time neighborhood, Glenshire, a way to get safely to downtown and beyond?

And for the glass half full types among us, can it be both?

A Truckee River trail that continues to Donner Lake has been in the works since the 1980s, first as an important element in the Nevada County Bicycle Master Plan, and then in the 1996 Truckee General Plan; the 1995 Downtown Vision Plan and the 1997 Downtown Specific Plan (both of which called for a paved trail); 2002’s Truckee Trails and Bikeways Master Plan; and the recently completed General Plan update.

All of these community-driven efforts came to the same conclusion: This trail is a priority because of its importance as an alternative transportation route connecting Truckee’s far-flung eastern and western neighborhoods. But while there has been a lot of sweat and financial equity invested in the trail (notably by the Town and the Rotary Club’s Legacy Foundation), the question over paving is still unresolved.

Truckee Trails Foundation, the town and a trails advisory committee wrestled with this question in a recent effort to make surfacing decisions for all 45 trail corridors outlined in the Truckee Trails and Bikeways Master Plan but couldn’t get consensus on the Legacy Trail. Yet when the trails foundation board looked closely at the issue we found ourselves in respectful disagreement with those who prefer an unpaved trail.

To us the answer seems clear: Truckee needs a paved Truckee River trail, preferably with a parallel single track or unpaved shoulders, from Glenshire to 89 south, and from 89 south to Donner Lake. This could include all, some, or none of the Legacy Trail.

Here is why we feel the trail should be paved:

– Paving and environmental: Truckee’s growth is straining our natural resources, including air quality. The environmental impact of a paved or unpaved trail with a decomposed granite surface is the same. However a paved trail will result in higher recreational use and will provide a safe alternative transportation route from Glenshire and the Donner Lake neighborhoods to downtown and other destinations like the regional and sports parks. If we want to continue to boast that the “Stars Shine Brighter in Truckee” then people need alternatives to driving their cars. A paved trail is one such alternative.

– Not a highway: We didn’t feel that a paved trail that’s useful as an alternative transportation route equated a highway built for speed. We believe that a river trail should follow landscape contours and be designed to control speed by, among other things, including choke points (narrowing the trail or putting natural obstacles in the middle of the path, i.e. a boulder or building around a tree). This technique is used effectively in mountain bike trail design.-

– Not the Tahoe City trail: This has come up in discussions around town. While there is overcrowding on this paved trail on summer weekends, 80-90 percent of the time it’s a pleasure to use. The trail’s problems are due to its proximity to Squaw, Tahoe City and 89 south; the hordes of rafters and the reality that there are few paved trails in North Tahoe. None of these problems is relevant to a paved river trail in Truckee.

– Cyclists and Glenshire Drive:- Cycling on Glenshire is risky even for experienced riders. Yes, one day Glenshire will have bike lanes but that is 10-15 years away. Meantime, there are no safe alternatives for kids and their families to ride to places like school, downtown and the town’s parks.

– Great for locals: We feel that a paved trail would open up the Truckee River to a broader group of locals like families, the disabled, roller skiers and bladers (to name a few). How cool would it be for families (including kids on bikes with training wheels) to ride together to find beautiful spots to picnic or swim? Or to ride to the sports and regional parks for games and concerts?-

One interesting fact that came out of a Tahoe City PUD trail survey is that 20 percent of Tahoe City bike path users are from Truckee. This speaks to a community-wide desire for a paved river trail in Truckee. It’s a fact that while our unpaved trail system is growing quickly we only have fragments of bike paths in place. We need a paved river trail to meet the needs of all users in our community.

That’s our opinion. Whether you agree or not please make your voice heard. On April 11 and May 17 there will be presentations to the Planning Commission and Town Council respectively about surfacing for all trails in the Trails Plan including the Legacy Trail. You can also e-mail your thoughts to Dennis Troy at the town at

Getting input is essential to ensuring that a river trail is built to meet the current and future needs of our town.

Leigh Fitzpatrick is the executive director of the Truckee Trails Foundation. E-mail

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