Camp Richardson blazes trail to future
The new vision for Camp Richardson Resort is really not much of a new vision at all. In fact, the resort’s most recent Master Plan, which has been in the works since 1997, embodies most of the same concepts first envisioned by Capt. Alonzo Richardson more than 75 years ago.
There are changes afoot as Camp Richardson enters the next millennium. But in this case, change is relative, and the old song title “Everything Old Is New Again” rings significant.
In 1921, Richardson leased a large parcel of land on the western shore of Lake Tahoe from a mining and timber company, and began running a motorized stage route from Placerville to his new property. He bought the property outright in 1924, and began to build cabins, a hotel and a lakefront pavilion. Camp Richardson was thus born, beginning the transformation of Lake Tahoe from an exclusive summer retreat for the wealthy to a recreational playground accessible to everyone.
Generations of families have stayed at Camp Richardson ever since. It is, in many ways, a microcosm of Tahoe – reflecting the best reasons to live and visit here, while at the same time presenting the problems and challenges the area must face in the future.
“Our goal, when you boil everything down, is to create a place that will endure,” said Mike Weber, president and general manager of Camp Richardson Resort, Inc. – which is owned by a primary investor who is based in South Korea. The land is owned and maintained by the United States Forest Service. “Just as Tahoe is the jewel of the Sierra, we feel that Camp Richardson is the jewel of Tahoe.
“As such, all the issues that face the Tahoe Basin; issues of transportation and water quality and the environment and so many others, are the same issues we face here at Camp Rich,” Weber said. “We want to improve and enhance the resort without sacrificing the historical integrity. I think we’re doing that.”
The first real crossroads for Camp Richardson came in the early 1960s, when co-owner Ray Knisley began feeling pressure to sell the valuable property to commercial developers. Operation of the resort was becoming difficult and less profitable. But Knisley did not want to see condominiums or major hotels on the land, and in 1967 he approached the Forest Service to take it over. The result was one of the most valuable areas of recreational land ever converted to public use.
Today, Camp Richardson is operated under a Forest Service special use permit, overseen by the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
It was a joint effort by those agencies, the resort operators and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency that produced a Master Plan in 1997 – a blueprint for the resort’s future over the next two decades.
“Camp Richardson is a historic resort, and we’re trying to keep it that way,” said USFS representative Bob King. “We have some fairly aggressive rehabilitation plans over the next 10 years. Our aim is to upgrade the facilities while maintaining the current ambiance.”
It is the Forest Service that picks up the costs when renovations take place at Camp Rich – at least where the Master Plan is concerned – so progress in that area is usually slow. Funds have been earmarked, however, for the renovations of 10 of the resort cabins.
Other projects already completed include a new pier at the marina (which is not on Forest Service land), which was completed last summer, and renovations to the lodge, the deli and the candy store.
“We’re really working toward fostering that Norman Rockwell feel,” Weber said. “But we also want to make this a four-season resort. You have to do that these days to compete.”
One of the problems that the owners of Camp Richardson have traditionally faced is that of skimpy shoulder seasons. In other words, the great majority of people visit during the summer (it is not uncommon to see police officers directing traffic in the area on a summer weekend). And even though there is plenty to do in the winter, relatively few show up.
The Plan seems to revolve around a new transportation model – an ambitious attempt to get visitors out of their cars.
“If we’re doing our job, people will arrive here, leave their vehicles on the first day and not return to them until they leave,” Weber said. “That’s our vision. We see a system of electric cars, trolleys, water taxis, bike trails and hiking paths to get people around. Eventually we could provide a link with transportation that goes to other destinations across the lake.
“Water transportation was a feature here in the early days, and it could be a major feature again. The good things endure.”
Among other plans are more extensive bike trails, situated further from the roads; interpretive trails that would feature hiking and biking; designated areas for day- and overnight-use; an area for wedding receptions and parties; rehabilitation of the Beacon Restaurant; transformation of the Knisley House to a bed and breakfast; and summer camp programs for children.
“This is a canvas for the next 20 years,” Weber said. “The Forest Service, the TRPA and ourselves are all working hard to move the vision forward.”
One enduring feature will not change: Camp Richardson’s reputation as an access point to Fallen Leaf Lake, Mt. Tallac and Desolation Wilderness.
“What some people don’t realize is that Camp Richardson is a community in itself,” Weber said. “This place evolved from a logging camp. There used to be just a post office here, and we had the first gas station in the entire Lake Tahoe Basin. For a long time, Camp Rich has been the center of things from Pope Beach to Baldwin Beach. Trends change, but we’ve always been here. And we want to be here for a long time to come.”
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