Nevada State Parks officials experimenting with Sand Harbor Lake Tahoe reopen times
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Officials at Sand Harbor State Park are experimenting with different daily reopening times in an attempt to maximize park-usage during the day while reducing traffic impacts on the adjacent highway.
The iconic park located on Tahoe’s East Shore in Nevada is a must-see destination for visitors and residents. In the summer it doesn’t take long for Sand Harbor’s 528 parking spaces to fill up. On Saturday, July 20, the parking lot was filled roughly an hour after the 8 a.m. opening. On Tuesday the lot was full by 10 a.m.
Throughout the day, though, vehicles will leave and parking spaces become available.
For years Sand Harbor operated on a car-for-car basis; meaning one car would leave the park and another would be allowed to enter.
That practice caused significant traffic issues on Nevada Route 28, explained Dale Conner, deputy administrator of Nevada State Parks and a former park ranger at Sand Harbor.
In order to alleviate the traffic burden, Sand Harbor started closing after the lot filled in the morning. At first they reopened the park at 2 p.m.
The idea, according to Conner, was to give visitors a definitive time they could return while choosing a time of day when the demand to enter the park would be less.
Park officials quickly realized that 2 p.m. was too early in the day, Conner said during a July 15 community meeting in Incline Village. The demand at that time was so great that the traffic issues they were attempting to solve were just being pushed back later in the afternoon.
Sand Harbor then shifted the reopening time to 3 p.m.
That practice was implemented during the summer of 2017 and it worked for a period of time, according to Allen Wooldridge, supervisor of Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.
However, the same problem that occurred at 2 p.m. started occurring at 3.
The park would generally fill around 4:30 or 5 p.m., which created a backlog onto Nevada Route 28 right as people were arriving to attend Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, which is hosted in Sand Harbor through most of summer.
A sold out show at the Shakespeare Fest can bring 250 vehicles into the park, according to Wooldridge.
Given the traffic complications, Sand Harbor officials decided to experiment with a 5 p.m. reopening time.
“Obviously that is a long time to be closed. And as you’re driving by the parking lot what can you see? The south lot and a whole bunch of empty spaces,” Wooldridge said at the community meeting in Incline.
Prior to the start of the Shakespeare Festival (weekday performances for the 2019 season started on July 15), Woolridge said, “it was getting ridiculous … to stay closed until 5 p.m.”
July 15, a blustery day at the lake, was a perfect example of the factors that can influence decisions on when to reopen Sand Harbor, Woolridge said. Staff originally intended to reopen at 5 p.m., but they reopened early after many visitors left for the day.
“It’s a weird guessing game everyday trying to figure out what is this parking lot going to look like? Are we going to be over capacity with that 5 p.m. or earlier?” Woolridge said.
Further complicating the question of whether the park is at capacity, people can now enter the park via the East Shore Express shuttle and the newly constructed East Shore shared-use path. The park stopped allowing walkins from the highway in an attempt to reduce parking along Nevada Route 28.
Additionally, people can now take ride-sharing services into the park via the boat entrance, although they have to pay the full $10 vehicle entrance fee.
While it may seem like there are plenty of parking spaces available, people entering the park via alternative modes of transportation may mean the park is at or beyond capacity for the number of people, Conner said.
“We’re still open to trying different times, different things.”
At the time of the July 15 meeting, Sand Harbor had only implemented the 5 p.m. closure twice. Since then, with daily Shakespeare Fest performances ramping up and continuing through most of August, the park has implemented the 5 p.m. reopening time on a regular basis.
For updates on closure and reopening times during the summer, follow the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park Facebook page (@sandharborofficial).