GUEST COLUMN: Management project could hurt Fallen Leaf
Dear Mr. Quinn,
I am writing in regard to the proposed Fallen Leaf Lake Trail Access and Travel Management Project, and am concerned not only with the recommendations being made but the timing of its presentation to the public (both the time of year and the limited amount of time for comments to be submitted).
Fallen Leaf Lake and its surrounding area have a rich and enduring history and beauty. This project cites the need: A) “to reduce erosion and improve water quality in the area,” B) “to improve and expand public parking and access,” and C) “to improve recreational opportunity, improve trail and destination connectivity, and address potential use conflict,” all the while “minimizing the removal of large trees to maintain the natural character of the site.” The recommendations put forth by the USFS are dubious at best, raising more questions than they answer. I believe that they will be more of a detriment to the natural, aesthetic and historical value of the area than a success in achieving the proposal’s “desired conditions.”
Why are more parking lots needed when we have existing parking lots at Pope, Baldwin and Kiva Beaches, as well as the Tallac Estates, which could be opened during the winter and set up as additional snow park areas? Why aren’t the Cathedral Snow Park area and the empty Mikasa parking lot at the “Y” utilized more fully during the summer as viable parking? Perhaps we should think twice before A) Paving over the historical Pope Estate polo grounds. B) Closing off the available parking at Valhalla. C) Issuing special use permits for large events such as the Renaissance Faire, Oktoberfest, or SDA camp-outs, without ensuring adequate parking solutions for the public who will attend these events?
Why create an emergency access road at the northeast corner of Fallen Leaf Lake Campground when we can do a better job improving the existing Fallen Leaf Road, especially between Highway 89 and the campground so that emergency vehicles as well as recreational vehicles and trailers can more smoothly access the campground without conflict?
How can closing 14-plus miles of some of the most popular trails lead to fewer user conflicts between hikers, bikers and horses? A number of the trails recommended for closure actually provide alternate routes for people to avoid the crowds and conflicts, ensuring opportunities to enjoy the quiet peacefulness in a more natural and native forest environment without dealing with the “masses” or having to do “all day forays” into Desolation Wilderness. Will closing these trails really help improve recreational opportunities and destination connectivity while controlling erosion, or will the problems just move elsewhere?
Fallen Leaf Lake and its surrounding area is one of the few places one can still go to see remnants of Tahoe’s “old-growth” forests prior to the clear-cutting and lumbering of the 1800s. How can all of the aspects to this Forest Service proposal occur without removing these large trees, the precise old-growth trees that greatly contribute to the historical, aesthetic and natural character of the area, thanks in large part to the conservation efforts of Lucky Baldwin and his daughter, Anita Baldwin?
Finally, why is this proposal going public during a time when many summer residents, both “locals” and visitors, are absent from the basin? Not only is this proposal occurring during the slowest time of the year but there is also a very short time frame for public comments to be made and minimal publicity about it, appearing only occasionally in the local paper and public service announcements on the airwaves. There are a lot of recommendations in the proposal to examine, and some of the listed trails recommended for closure (eg. CR30 and FL5) are not even specifically addressed other than in the summary table. The map provided of the project area is very difficult and time-consuming to correctly identify what’s being done where; I doubt many people will take the time to carefully examine it in full. What is the hurry in pushing this through so quickly? Who really will benefit?
In closing, as a long-term resident and frequent user of the Fallen Leaf area, I am very much opposed to the Fallen Leaf Trail Access and Travel Management Project. I worked for the USFS back in the 1980s and ’90s, supervising campgrounds, patrolling the backcountry and working to maintain the many trails in the basin. Since then, what I have observed as mismanagement and lack of proper maintenance, monitoring, and patrolling of our forests leads me to believe that funds being set aside for this project would be a waste. Yes, more people are getting out into the forest, thanks in part to better equipment which eases the hardships that Mother Nature can present. Unfortunately, the education and common sense needed to experience the wilderness safely and positively is not keeping up with the increased usage and impact. The funds that have been earmarked for this project which would close, reroute, and pave over natural habitat and forests would be better used in providing improved education of the public in “leaving no trace,” maintenance, and patrolling of the existing trails and forests.
It is my considered judgment that more common sense and more project goal transparency are essential before finalization of these plans. As currently written and presented, the project scarcely assures any meaningful improvements to the Fallen Leaf area.
– Brenda Wyneken is a former USFS employee and volunteer. The longtime South Lake Tahoe resident is a middle school teacher. The USFS will take comments about the Fallen Leaf Lake Trail Access and Travel Management Project until Jan. 13. To read the proposal and to comment, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/gotolltbmuIFallenLeafLakeATM or contact Jacob Quinn at 530-543-2609 or email email@example.com.
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