High Meadow gets two-year makeover | TahoeDailyTribune.com

High Meadow gets two-year makeover

Adam Jensen
Adam Jensen / Tahoe Daily TribuneU.S. Forest Service crews construct a new channel for Cold Creek through High Meadow on Wednesday afternoon.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A two-year, almost $2 million effort to restore a visually stunning high altitude South Shore meadow is underway.

The High Meadow Restoration Project includes projects over a 1,790-acre area bought by the U.S. Forest Service in 2003, and work to restore the 200-acre meadow at the center of the purchase began Aug. 9.

More than 100 years of grazing, and associated irrigation efforts, have dramatically changed the meadow’s ecosystem, according to the Forest Service.

“The meadow is dried out, the stream banks are heavily eroded and lodgepole pines are crowding out the aspen,” wrote Forest Service spokeswoman Cheva Heck in an e-mail. “We are building a new channel for part of the stream, restoring flood plains, filling ditches that were constructed to divert water, and removing lodgepole pine.”

The meadow sits at 7,700 feet, just south of the top of Heavenly Mountain Resort’s Canyon Express Chairlift and is hemmed by mountains on three sides. The Tahoe Rim Trail skirts the southern end of the meadow, which provides spectacular views of Freel Peak and surrounding mountainsides.

On Wednesday, a backhoe operator laid stabilizing swaths of sod harvested from the meadow along the banks of a newly-constructed Cold Creek channel. A temporary sprinkler system kept the sod moist along sweeping S-shaped bends in the new channel.

The accompanying hum of the heavy equipment will replace the usual quiet of in the High Meadow through mid-October.

Work will ramp up again next summer once the snow melts and the meadow dries enough to resume, and will focus on irrigating and filling previously existing channels, said Stephanie Heller, a hydrologist for the Forest Service and the project manager for the meadow restoration.

Next summer’s work won’t entail the heavy machinery that dots the meadow this year, and in five years, the public won’t know the Forest Service was there at all, Heller said. The work should be completed by fall 2011.

The meadow is closed to the public while crews are at work, but open during weekends and off hours, Heller said.

The project involves “tried and true” restoration methods, Heller said, pointing to the Cookhouse Meadow Project, near the Big Meadows trailhead off Highway 89, as an example of what’s in store for High Meadow.

Photos from that Cookhouse project, completed in 2005, show a small stream spreading out through a lush green meadow.

The meadow restoration is funded through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, which distributes money from federal land sales around Las Vegas to projects throughout Nevada and the Lake Tahoe Basin.

While the project is likely to provide some benefit to Lake Tahoe water quality, the focus of the project is on restoring the meadow itself to a more natural condition, Heller said.

Another aspect of the project surrounding the meadow that is moving forward is a reroute of Cold Creek Trail. The reroute of the popular recreation trial attracted attention from hikers, who wanted to see mountain bikers excluded, and mountain bikers, who wanted to see the difficulty of the trail maintained.

The Forest Service attempted to strike a balance between the groups in its approval of the reroute project, Heck said.

“The trail will remain open to mountain bikers and has features meant to enhance the ride, but also has features that slow bikers’ downhill speeds to reduce conflicts with hikers,” Heck said. “Cold Creek Trail was user-created, but we’re adopting the re-routed trail and it will become part of our official trail system, which means we will maintain it.”

One project that is not moving forward in the area is an effort to promote old-growth forest included in the Heavenly Master Plan Amendment process three years ago. The 41-acre project was nixed after bark beetles killed trees in the area that had been eyed for old-growth enhancement, Heller said.﻽

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