Forest planners look at possibility of camping at Burton Creek State Park |

Forest planners look at possibility of camping at Burton Creek State Park

Megan Michelson

TAHOE CITY – An organized opposition formed three years ago in response to the updated general plan for the Burton Creek State Park development. The opposition collected more than 700 signatures of people against the project’s plan, saying it would increase traffic and congestion and add unnecessary development. They were against the originally planned 50 to 350 campsites on a paved access road within the park.

Now, the general plan is still in the works – and it’s being received rather quietly. Sierra District Superintendent Hayden Sohm, who took over as superintendent last August, spoke at the First Tuesday Breakfast Club last week in Tahoe City about the latest draft plan.

“I’m not here today to tell you that camping will be a reality at Burton Creek,” Sohm said at the meeting. “However, based on the conversations up until this point, we’ve come up with some ideas for the general plan.”

Ken Anderson, state park senior ecologist, discussed the specifics of those ideas for the 2000-acre state park in Tahoe City.

The general plan, which has been in the works for more than three years, aims to set a 20-year recreational and development plan for the future of the park as well as adopt additional acreage from the Dollar Property, which currently belongs to the California Tahoe Conservancy. Upon approval of the general plan, the California Tahoe Conservancy will convert the 940 adjacent acres to become part of the Burton Creek State Park.

The plan was presented to an executive review committee in Sacramento last year under the leadership of former Sierra District Superintendent John Knott, but it failed to be approved. This time, state parks officials say they hope it will be different.

“We’re hoping to get a general plan passed this time around,” Anderson said.

This week, the district submitted a draft of the general plan to the department’s planning policy and programming committee for final review and comment.

In April there will be a 45-day public review period with public meetings to discuss the draft. The earliest the plan will be heard by the State Parks Commission will be in September.

The current draft of the general plan includes additional signs indicating the location of the park and trailheads, continued resource protection projects, road and trail designs with four trailhead parking facilities, a new access road and the possible development of a 60- to 180-site campground. There are also potential plans to construct administrative buildings and overnight cabins within the park.

The access road, which was originally proposed to run through the Firestone property, is now being discussed for several alternative locations, including an entrance in the vicinity of the Tamarack Lodge.

Until funding, staffing and traffic problems are resolved, however, park managers say don’t expect any development in the near future.

“There are no immediate plans for development,” Anderson said. “Do we have a have a pot of money we’re sitting on right now or a full staff? Absolutely not.”

Paul Vatistas, a Highlands resident, was an outspoken opponent to the plan three years ago because he said it would add traffic congestion and development through one of Tahoe City’s last preserved sites. Although the revised plan is scaled down, Vatistas says the opposition still has some concerns.

“Any campsite that brings vehicle traffic or requires public structures into the area is going to be a problem,” he said.

But this time around, he said the concerned residents and state parks staff have been engaged in an ongoing and constructive dialogue, but the residents who signed the petition last time are still keeping close tabs on the plan.

“The opposition is aware but dormant,” Vatistas said. “We’re waiting to see exactly what they propose. Hopefully they can come up with something that meets their needs and ours.”

The park’s planners understand that traffic is a top concern for local residents and promise not to construct anything until peak congestion problems are solved. Sohm admitted that waiting for the traffic problems to lessen may mean waiting on the impossible, but that in the long-term, change is within reach.

“It could be de facto that this development never happens, but 20 years is a long time and we want to open that door and leave it open,” Sohm said.

For now, the park staff will continue to work on resource management to improve forest health, decrease fire dangers and modify roads and trails.

Although steps have been made to progress with the general plan, Anderson said there’s still bound to be some disputing.

“The question is value. Some say the highest value of the park is to leave it the way it is now,” he said. “Others would like to see more development to maximize the use of the park.”

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