Caldor burns popular Tahoe trails, groups ready to rebuild
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — While many of Tahoe’s homes and buildings remained unscathed by the Caldor Fire, several of the basin’s most popular recreation areas did not fare so well.
Even though the fire continues to burn and the full extent of its damage has yet to be seen, groups like Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association and Tahoe Rim Trail Association are already starting to prepare for the work that lies ahead to repair damaged trails.
The fire burned through Desolation Wilderness, which is home to one of the Tahoe Rim Trail’s beautiful and challenging segments.
“The Forest Service and fire personnel have started assessing the damage done to the trails during the Caldor Fire,” said Kristine Koran, trail operations manager for TRTA. “At this point, this area is extremely hazardous and only fire personnel are able to assess the damage. The Forest Service has started the process of evaluating the damage and hazards that exist.”
In the South Lake area, TAMBA has begun remotely cataloguing trails that have been damaged.
“We have begun assessing damage to trails via satellite data and also from some TAMBA members/volunteers who are local firefighters and have been providing us information on some of the impacts to the trails,” said Patrick Parsel, trails coordinator for TAMBA. “Some of the most popular mountain bike trails in the Tahoe Basin burned during the Caldor Fire.”
They believe more than 20 miles of trail has been affected including, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Corral Trail, Sidewinder, Incense Cedar, Armstrong Connector and Armstrong Pass Trail.
TAMBA is coordinating with the forest service to mitigate hazards (primarily dead trees leaning over the trail) along the trail corridor that would pose a risk to volunteers or paid crews that would be doing trail repair work.
In Desolation Wilderness, Koran said that a burned area emergency response team will evaluate all areas and develop a plan of action to stabilize roads and trails before winter.
“Fire can leave numerous hazards, the most prevalent will be burnt trees that can fall at any moment with no warning signs,” Koran said. “Erosion and slides in the burn are a significant concern especially as rain returns to the region. Additionally, fire can travel underground in root systems and flare up starting spot fires and, in the future, unstable ground where stumps have burned underground.”
Parsel said that a lot of the repair work will be focused on fixing trail infrastructure, including replacing destroyed bridges, filling in stump/root holes, building retaining walls, and clearing landslide debris, as well as replacing burned signs.
In the meantime, the trails can be dangerous to users.
“Fire crews are working hard to mitigate these hazards but it’s dangerous work that takes time to complete. It can take several years for an area to be deemed safe depending on the amount of damage done to the landscape and the intensity with which the fire burned,” Koran said. “The trail will only reopen once it is safe and unfortunately, we have no way of knowing how soon that will be.”
Since the process of repairing and rebuilding can be so timely, Parsel said there is a chance that the forest service could choose to keep some of the trails closed this fall. Because of the danger to users and the popularity of the trails, TAMBA is pushing to rebuild as soon as possible.
“Many trails that folks might ride as alternatives to these are along the U.S. Highway 50 corridor from Echo Summit down towards Kyburz and these also burned,” Parsel said. “This just reinforces the need to try and move efficiently with the forest service to get the trails rebuilt and opened back to the public as quickly as possible, so that we don’t see overly congested trails in other parts of the basin or other unintended consequences. The affected trails see thousands of users each year and those folks are still going to be riding.”
TRTA also sees the importance of trying to get the trails back open as soon as possible.
“Since the Tahoe Rim Trail and surrounding trails are incredibly popular and heavily used, we know our land management partners are doing everything they can to reopen in a timely manner,” Koran said. “The TRTA has been discussing with partners how we can assist trail reopening.”
Koran said they are hopeful that many of the rock structures and bridges will still be in place. In addition to restoring the trail, they are also evaluation options around reseeding and replanting to revegetate the burn scar with native, sustainable plants and trees once they have access.
Like TAMBA, TRTA fears they won’t be able to begin the work this season but are hopeful for next season.
“Many trails that have experienced intense wildfires take years to recover and reopen,” Koran said. “We have many staff and volunteers ready to help as soon as we can.”
Parsel said TAMBA already has a group of volunteers who want to help rebuild as soon as possible.
“We have received an outpouring of support from people who want to come help volunteer to rebuild and we want to provide that opportunity for our community to come together,” Parsel said.
“The Lake Tahoe community is strong and we are excited to help and support our partners once it is safe and appropriate for us to lend a helping hand,” Koran said. “The public can help by following the closures and refraining from disrupting the work our partners are completing to mitigate the hazards from the fire.”
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