During changing times, Fallen Leaf retains its character
FALLEN LEAF LAKE – The leaves have barely started to turn, marking a more peaceful season of change at this evolving alpine jewel.
The little mountain haven has undergone a few changes in the last decade or so, longtime residents say. Small, funky cabins have been replaced or enhanced to make room for large Alpine-style homes. The property values of the few homes sold – averaging one or two a year – have topped over $1 million since 2001, the El Dorado County Assessor’s Office reports.
Visitors come and go from one week to another, shorter stays than those of half a century ago.
The fire station for the small $130,000-budget volunteer department was upgraded three years ago. Plus, the general store was expanded about the same time into more of a boutique shop, catering to visitors looking for novelty gifts beyond the staple items. Hanny Bentvelzen of the Netherlands relaxed outside the store with a soft drink and snack. She and her friend sent their husbands out on the lake to go fishing.
“They were told not to come back until they caught something,” she said.
For years, the bulk of the population has congregated in the summer. Fall provides a little quieter experience, fewer crowds, crisp nights. In the winter, one can count on one hand how many people make the one-lane trip up to the scenic lake located due west of Lake Tahoe.
Among the hearty bunch is Eric Thaden, a Chase International real estate agent who mainly uses a snowmobile to get home in the winter.
Thaden, who has lived there for 25 years, has noticed all these aforementioned changes – especially in real estate. He closed a deal on a home for $1.1 million last week. But business isn’t the reason he lives at Fallen Leaf.
Every summer, he organizes the Glen Alpine Springs fund-raising dinners and barbecues to preserve and appreciate a bit of history in Fallen Leaf’s back yard. The tiny inland settle-ment made from Nathan Gilmore’s quest for grazing land in the 1860s has intrigued many hikers making the trek up to Grass Lake or even Mount Tallac. This is one hike Thaden has made a few times, when he wasn’t so concerned about the pounding on his knees.
The charm of the place
Being in the outdoors and enjoying the natural setting is the reason Thaden has settled and stayed put at Fallen Leaf. His favorite activity is quite docile, sitting on his deck with a cup of coffee watching the sunset.
“This is a place I connect with nature,” he said, glancing out at the view of the mountains. Five years ago, Thaden built his 1,900-square-foot house with large windows, a wood stove and vaulted ceiling. It’s quiet enough on the deck to hear a variety of birds.
In this day and age of a bustling society, Thaden realizes it’s difficult to get many people to sit still and be still long enough to absorb nature in action.
“Of changes here, people come for a short amount of time. I think people’s lives are busier, and the kids go back to school earlier,” he said. And gone are the days from the pre-1970s when families would go to camp for the whole summer.
Thaden said many of the houses are occupied by second homeowners. Many have sought to expand their places for more space to accommodate friends and family.
“Certainly, the trend has been people fixing up their homes,” he said.
Much of the trend may revolve around the technical nature of home building.
“You can’t really build the summer cabin (as we know it) anymore. It has to built to code,” he said.
That would explain the large homes that have replaced Fallen Leaf’s trademark cabins.
For Glenn Adams, expanding his living space at Fallen Leaf was part of his effort to keep generations of his family together. The Lafayette man grew up with his siblings crammed in the 430-square-foot family cabin that still exists.
But more and more family members vie for time. As an adult, he chose to share the experience in a home spanning 1,600 square feet.
And family is one aspect of Fallen Leaf Lake that doesn’t change.
From one generation to the next, the residents seem to love the simpler life, sense of community and the history that goes along with the area.
Adams pointed out that when some homeowners upgrade the family cabin they’ll often use some piece of history to carry on in the new place.
“It could be the fireplace or a mantel. They want to retain the character. Even though it may cost more to save it. There’s so much history,” he said.
Next to the notice announcing “will trade cabin for wine,” a piece of it now exists on the bulletin board at the general store.
An obituary that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle in May noted one longtime homeowner’s love of the lake life.
“She worshipped the mountains,” Margy Boyd of San Francisco said of her sister, Janet Clifton Byington. The family maintains its home there. Boyd said the family would never part with it.
“When I was a little girl, my mother and father filled trunks of canned goods and shipped them to Fallen Leaf where we spent the summer,” she said. “It’s special. Fallen Leaf is more than a place. It’s a state of mind.”