SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - There's no doubt that the Fallen Leaf Lake area is a great place to hike, ride a bike, trot on horseback or just enjoy the outdoors. The question is how to make the trails that meander through the area, and access to those trails, better.
The U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Management Unit has introduced a plan to manage the network of trails and impacts from trail users. Though few details have been decided upon, the plan is already meeting resistance from local residents.
The Fallen Leak Lake Trail Access and Travel Management Project, introduced in December, is far from finalized, said Forest Service spokeswoman Cheva Heck. The public comment period closed Friday, but the Forest Service plans on reaching out to the public through at least one workshop in coming months as well as additional public comment periods.
"We still need to develop alternatives and that's all based on public comment," Heck said. "That's what will create a plan that will best serve the public."
Some elements of the proposed plan include rebuilding the bridge over Fallen Leaf Lake Dam, reconstructing the Pope-Baldwin Bike Path, rerouting some trails that end on private property, eliminating some user-created trails, increasing signage and moving away from roadside parking and towards designated parking facilities.
"We're trying to make sense of the network of trails that's out here, but we're not trying to change the character of the area," said Garrett Villanueva, a forest engineer for the Forest Service.
The need for management stems from the high use the area receives throughout the year. The project area is one of the most popular for hikers, bikers and equestrians in the Lake Tahoe Basin, according to the project plan. The Pope-Baldwin Bike Path, the most popular bike path at Lake Tahoe, hosts an average of about 1,600 riders per day, Heck said.
The high use can pose a variety of problems, ranging from traffic congestion to erosion, user conflicts to ecological impacts.
"This area in the summer time is the most recreationally dense," said Jacob Quinn, a Forest Service trail coordinator. "To add complexity, it's also one of the most ecologically diverse."
The Fallen Leaf Lake Protection Association has filed a letter with the U.S. Forest Service opposing the plan. The primary grievances of the group revolve around the new bridge proposed to be built over Fallen Leaf Lake Dam, the parking, the additional traffic pressure on Fallen Leaf Lake Road and the decommissioning of several specific trails. The association also argues that the Forest Service should focus on reducing fuels in the area, rather than managing the trails.
The Forest Service has received between 40 and 50 comments on the project. Some opposition to the project was expected, Heck said.
"We expect to be hearing from people who have concerns," Heck said. "This is a give and take process. We're looking for the information we don't have."
Project managers have already began to feel through the public comment and revise the plans accordingly. Forest Service trails coordinator Jason Quinn offered a trail along Taylor Creek as an example. In the original plan, the trail was set to be decommissioned.
"As a result of receiving public comment, we'd probably keep this trail, but pull it away from the creek a little to provide a buffer zone," Quinn said.
Work on the project will not begin until at least June 2013. The Forest Service still must provide an environmental impact assessment as well as alternatives to the project, both of which have 30-day comment periods. More information on the upcoming public workshop will be released soon, Heck said.