2016 Tahoe Trails Summit – Takeaways

Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association, the US Forest Service, Truckee Trails Foundation, Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, Scott Nichols of Ibis, Gary Sjoquist of Quality Bicycle Products, officials from South Lake Tahoe, Mammoth and elsewhere all came together on a rainy weekend at the beginning of May to talk Tahoe trails.

There was good news and bad, reason for optimism and cause for caution. Here are some of the highlights I took away.

Optimism:

  • There are tons of stats out their supporting the benefits of bike trails, from positive impacts on property values to an average of $1 spent on trails saving $3 in healthcare costs in a community. The facts are there for the argument to be made.
  • People are putting their time and money where their tires are: Kevin Joell, trails director for TAMBA, counted almost 4,000 hours of volunteer trail work in 2015.
  • Sales taxes to support trails are popping up and proving effective in places like Truckee and Mammoth Lakes.
  • NICA: Sjoquist is at the helm of a Nevada high school mountain bike league that not only represents a future generation of mountain bikers, but also brings their parents into the sport, and requires trail building and maintenance as part of team activities.
  • The undeniable force of the outdoor industry: Netting $650 billion a year (26 billion for mountain biking alone) with 6.1 million jobs; a unified voice from outdoor recreation is a force to be reckoned with.
  • Tourism done right: The Wall Street Journal declared cyclists the new golfers in terms of tourism spending, and to those saying #dontmoabtahoe, Nichols pointed to the iconic southwest mountain biking destination as a model. “They have 700,000-800,000 mountain bike user days a year, and it doesn’t feel crowded out on the trails,” he said.

Caution:

  • An image crisis. Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Trails Engineer Jacob Quinn described a scene we’ve all watched on Youtube or Pinkbike of a slowmo rider drifting (skidding, in reality) through a turn, spraying up dirt and said it makes him cringe, and should make anybody who’s volunteered on trails cringe. It’s hard to convince land managers people like that should be allowed into wilderness.
  • Localism: Being a territorial jerk while living in a tourist destination isn’t an indicator of high IQ. You can be an ambassador for the trails and be more effective in protecting what you love. “I’ve seen more than a little resentment about change and more people on your trails,” Sjoquist said. “If you’re not happy because trails aren’t the way they used to be, get over it.” I’m looking at you #dontmoabtahoe hashtaggers.
  • “User conflict boils down to people choosing not to get along with someone else on the trail,” said Garret Villanueva with the Forest Service.
  • Less than 10 percent of Americans are visiting National Forest Lands. So why should they care about it?
  • TAMBA, a powerhouse for good trail stewardship and advocacy inside the Basin (and out) is fragile. One or two key volunteers burn out and we’re back to square one.

These are just a few of the points that I took away from the two-day event. What’s clear is there are many passionate people taking the sport in a positive direction. What isn’t clear is if a few bad apples will pull it in another.

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One foot in front of the other (From the Archives)

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They trickle through Donner Summit each summer thin, weathered and determined. Some reach where Old Highway 40’s ribbon of asphalt breaks the 2,650-mile trail momentarily, stride across the road and continue walking, their faces and feet pointed toward Canada.

Others drop into the cafe at Donner Ski Ranch and gorge themselves on hamburgers, ice cream or soda that cant be carried on their long hike. Still others venture to Poohs Corner to sample the legendary hospitality of a Donner Lake resident who has welcomed long distance hikers into his home for years.

And then, by August, the last of the pack is gone, following a dusty thread of trail up the spine of the Sierra Nevada, hoping that before the snow flies they’ll plant their feet in Canada and, for the first time in five months, walk away from a trail that has become their home.

Roughly 87 days and 1,156 miles since setting off from the Mexican border, Dominique Ghijselinck and Valerie De Clerck, collectively known as the Belgian Waffles, sat down for a break on Donner Summit Thursday.

“We like-long distance hiking, and we met a guy from Oregon who said ‘you might consider the Pacific Crest Trail,'” Ghijselinck said. “Somehow it got stuck in our heads.”

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From the Archives: Hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail

This is a series of articles, photos and videos I produced for the Sierra Sun back in 2007 as part of a 2-week thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail. Still my longest backpacking trip to date, I was part of a ~15 person group as part of a lead counter-clockwise thru-hike organized by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association. The associated later recognized this series with an award.

 

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