City puts emphasis on parks, programming

The city is planning more events at parks including a BMX race at the bike park in August. (Laney Griffo / Tahoe Daily Tribune)

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The city of South Lake Tahoe has made parks and outdoor recreation a priority as part of its Strategic Plan.

The second priority in the plan, which was adopted by council in March, is recreation and equitable access which states, “enhance the quality and quantity of Parks and Recreation opportunities for residents and visitors while prioritizing the construction of parks, recreation facilities and trails to support and maximize the highest community benefit that provides access for all.”

“Communities that prioritize parks tend to have healthier and higher quality of lives,” Irvin said. “I think we are lucky to have our entire basin as a park with the recreation access to bicycle trails to mountain bike trails to hiking to boating to kayaking but we’re even talking more and I think our parks is more about that programming, a way to engage.”

A study done earlier this month by the National Recreation and Park Association said, “More than nine in 10 U.S. adults say it is important for local government to invest in community infrastructure.”

“We definitely want to elevate recreation experiences for visitors and residents,” Irvin said. “I want to promote equitable access to underserved communities. We have wide ranging demographic gaps in our community … so we want to find ways to make those programs more affordable and equipment affordable for them to use.”

As part of that, the city wants to put a park in every neighborhood. Irvin said on average people want to only travel a quarter to a half mile to get to a park.

But it’s not just about having a park within a certain distance from a house, it’s about people being able to safely and easily access the parks near them.

“That sounds big but that’s going to be driven by what the neighborhood needs, by neighborhood demographics that want to have the more passive park or the neighborhood demographics that really needs an active park that has activities for youth and teens that need to stay at a busy and occupied,” said Parks and Recreation Director Lauren Thomaselli.

The first one in this initiative is the Ski Run Park. The property was donated to the city by Friends of Ski Run which worked to acquire the land from Safeway. Fundraising is now currently happening to develop the park.

“It’ll probably be more of a passive type park where people have the opportunity to sit and have a picnic, go there in the stroller with the young ones or what not,” Irvin said.

In addition to adding new parks, the city will be upgrading the current ones. With the forthcoming Bijou Master Plan which is tied to the Tahoe Area Plan, there could be opportunities to expand access in that area. Play areas are also being considered in the 56-Acre Plan.

It’s not just about building parks but about encouraging use of the parks through programming. Thomaselli has been ramping up events and programming.

July is “Parks make life better,” month and the city has events planned throughout the whole month. But Thomaselli wants to continue programming throughout the year.

She’s currently hiring a special event and facility rental coordinator position that will help develop the events program but some events are already in the works.

There will be a BMX event at the bike park in August and the Historical Society wants to expand their Tuesday night history talks through August.

Thomaselli and Irvin are discussing a winter wonderland in the 56-acres for the holidays. They have also been working with two of Measure P oversight committee members to create a Parks Foundation.

“The Parks Foundation is something that has untapped potential that can help to support the funding needs to support these programs and initiatives,” Irvin said.

“We will have our Parks Foundation members show up [to events] and provide information on the foundation and how people can donate or support or provide ideas on programs they like to see and then we can have a funding source and also a volunteer avenue towards implementing new and exciting programs that are a good fit for our community,” Thomaselli said.

The focus on parks and programming will be a benefit to both locals and tourists. They can act as community hang-outs or a place to stretch legs after a long car-ride.

“When visitors can connect to the people, the history, and the culture of a place, they take a different outlook on the place that they’re recreating, they feel more responsible, they’re more respectful and they feel more connected you know to the people and the history and the place and then they feel more part of the community,” Thomaselli said.

The city is allowing the community to weigh-in on how the American Recovery Plan Act funding will be spent, and of the 20 projects to choose from, eight are parks and recreation related, which Irvin said shows the dedication of the city to parks.

And for Irvin, investing in parks goes hand-in-hand with economic development.

“It’s telling to me how hungry our parks are for investment and how much our community is asking for it,” Irvin said. “Economic development for cities is really how well the city sets the table for business and creative minds to come and do some innovative type of industry creation … and development in our parks and investment in our parks is economic development.”

“My long-term recreation plan is building in experiences that create memories and inspire connections so people want to come back here,” Thomaselli said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.