TAHOE CITY, Calif. - Caltrans might be able to build a road, but it takes a community to build a bike path.
Last Thursday afternoon, a large crowd gathered outside Jake's On The Lake to commemorate the opening of the Tahoe City Lakeside Trail - representing the missing link through Tahoe City between the West Shore Trail/Truckee River Trail and the North Shore Trail.
"This is not just a trail, it's a promenade," said Tahoe City Public Utilities District Board President Judy Friedman. "It's a $12 million miracle mile."
The idea for the project was first seeded in the 1980s. However, due to a lack of funding; the regulatory requirements of numerous agencies; and the complexities of working with a cornucopia of private and public property owners, the planning process became arduous and long - so long, it spanned the lifetimes of several careers. The first phase was eventually completed in 2001, with the final phase completed this June.
Thursday's ceremony recognized - amid a shanty of bike bells handed out to children in the audience - current and former TCPUD board members and staff, project designers and contractors, and property owners along the trail.
When current TCPUD General Manager Cindy Gustafson received her award, the crowd - audience and award recipients alike - gave her a standing ovation. Gustafson was involved with the Lakeside Trail project even before she worked with TCPUD, and was instrumental in initial fundraising for the project.
The California Tahoe Conservancy, an organization that donated $5.8 million, was one of the largest financial contributors to the project. The North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, which contributed nearly $1.8 million, was next.
In a twist from the usual, both agencies actually received refund checks, as other funding sources helped take up the rear - NLTRA received $325,000, and the conservancy got $700,000.
All in all, nine sources of monetary support were identified, including California State Parks, Placer County, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Caltrans and the Tahoe Fund.
Easements and general cooperation were required from the U.S. Forest Service, State Parks, Placer County, the Fred Motemedi & Family, Tahoe City Marina, Boatworks Mall and Safeway.
Among those on hand was Joanne Marchetta, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, who said the agency has a major interest in building bikeable, walkable communities.
"We will build a bike path that circumnavigates the lake," she said enthusiastically.
Several people in the crowd raised a skeptical eyebrow at the comment - considering that while the plan has been discussed for years of a lakewide bike path, funding for one currently does not exist - and Marchetta pointed at one particular person who could not hide the doubt that crossed his face and playfully shouted, "I saw that!"
As for now, locals and visitors are happy just to have the new link.
Courtney Clark - a mother of two children, 6-month-old Grady and 2-year-old Asher - and a Tahoe City resident, was beaming with excitement last Thursday when she pointed at the bike trailer she towed behind her bike.
"Now I'll be able to get here with my boys," she said.
Bill Cushway, part-owner of the Olympic Bike Shop, sat with his 19-year-old son, Nilo, watching the event. For the past 30 years, Bill said, the bike shop has accounted for a fourth of his income.
"My shop can't survive on repairs and sales only. We need rentals," he said. "We've been here for 35 years. Without the bike trail, we wouldn't have been here at all."