OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. - There once was a time when Squaw was a skier's mountain; we are now witnessing its transformation into a giant destination playground - better words might be a giant entertainment park, the Six Flags of the Sierra. Will Squaw Valley become a cookie cutter village facade? Will the community become a ghost town vacant of local color and character? How many homes will only have their lights on two weeks out of the year?
Development plans have been submitted to Placer County, attorneys have been hired and the controversy is heating up. It seems that with each update, the buildings are getting taller and the proliferation of fractional condos is escalating. The carnival/theme park amenities are more voluminous and strange - strange, that is, if you come to the mountains to ski and enjoy this natural playground we call Lake Tahoe.
As marketing plans are strategized to promote 24/7 entertainment, the blueprint expands with the development of a 122,000 square foot, domed water park and adventure center - and if that's not enough, how about a ride on the Timberline Twister. The Twister is an elevated rail with sled-like cars that will pull thrill seekers up the mountain at the edge of the Red Dog ski run and plummet them back down at super speeds rushing through banked turns and whoop-de-doos, you got it ... sort of like a roller coaster.
These are changing times, people need to be entertained, times when many are losing touch with nature and the outdoors. I recently spoke with a longtime volunteer who works the information booth at Yosemite National Park; according to her, the most frequently asked question is, "what is there to do here?" My how things have changed; it wasn't that long ago when the number one question was, "could you please tell me where to catch the trailhead for Nevada Falls or Glacier Point?"
Sierra Club studies show dwindling numbers of those under the age of 35 visiting our National Parks. A major concern is a growing population detached from nature with little appreciation for the outdoors. The fear is this will translate into a future devoid of votes for environmental issues: clean air and water, conservation of open space and wildlife habitat.
Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley have been a favorite getaway for generations. The area is loaded with outdoor adventure: hiking, climbing, trail running, backpacking, biking, swimming and boating. Many of us thought that water parks and roller coasters were a phenomenon found in suburbia. Why would we need to build them in the mountains? Is rafting the Truckee River lacking in giggles and thrill? Has jumping from giant boulders at the edge of Lake Tahoe become old hat? Is climbing up Donner Summit or Eagle Rock to watch a rising moon or catching a falling star not a romantic and bewitching endeavor? Is taking a walk in the woods not therapy enough to clear the mind?
A more frightening question - are we bringing up a generation with no sense of exploration and imagination and, worse yet, no attachment to nature and the great outdoors? Or is this all about quick capital gains? Build it, flip it, take the money and run.
Treas Manning is an Olympic Valley resident.