Guest Column: A sustainable, beneficial path forward for Washoe Meadows park (opinion)
Over 10 years ago, I lead a LTCC field class from the headwaters of the Upper Truckee River through the Tahoe Basin to our water’s final resting place in Pyramid Lake.
We stopped at a variety of places to chart the water’s path and talk about issues (good and bad). One of those places was a place I still refer to as “California’s Worst State Park” — Washoe Meadows.
OK, it’s really pretty nice, but worst in the sense that it is one of the top sediment contributors to Lake Tahoe and it is home to some highly degraded forest, meadow and riparian habitat. And for a park, it has no visitor center, no informational kiosks, zero public parking, poor signage, and incredibly limited access … that is unless you live next to it or you golf, in which case the park is actually pretty cool.
But the park could be better, for those who golf and for those that don’t. I chose to stop there for our field class because a river restoration planning effort was underway. The main goal: reducing bank erosion, raising the groundwater, and enhancing habitat.
That was over 10 years ago (yes, things move slow in Tahoe). This October, the California Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioners will decide the direction of this project. The park encourages the community to learn more about the project and submit comments to the commission at restoreuppertruckee.net.
As a young idealistic college student, getting my degree in hydrology, I would have been a strong advocate for returning things to the way they had been prior to human disturbance. I’m smarter than that now, and I realize that there are social and economic factors that need to be considered in addition to improving the environment.
With one of the project goals being habitat enhancement, it is important to recognize that we too, are now a permanent part of the habitat. It is important to honor the many ways that humans enjoy the land. Right now, the park is enjoyed by golfers, and those who live along the park’s perimeter who take their dog there to poop.
OK, maybe I’m annoyed that I don’t golf and my dog and I don’t get to enjoy these same benefits, but I’m pretty sure that when this land was purchased by the state there were some other priorities. I’m also smart enough to realize that environmental restoration is expensive. So are recreational bridges and trails.
And of course there are people who actually like golf. The golf course is also valuable in that it is one of the largest revenue generators for the state park system, helping to subsidize some of the other state parks in the area (like Emerald Bay). Hmm … I think an ecology instructor of mine told me that everything is connected — perhaps there is a solution here.
I could have bored you with the science and benefits of river restoration, but the lesson plan has changed, and my message needs to be more clear. Doing nothing solves nothing. Being unreasonable has the same effect. This river is still eroding away into Lake Tahoe remember.
There is benefit, however, in finding a restoration alternative we can afford to live with. Through the preferred restoration alternative (2b), the golf course gets downsized and relocated out of environmentally sensitive zones, but it gets some eco-upgrades and maintains some high quality play.
Some poor quality forest is sacrificed for high value meadowlands but, the river is realigned, stream habitat improves, and Lake Tahoe is saved.
And for the rest of us? Trails are enhanced, we get to cross over the river without being beaned by a golf ball, and the park becomes more accessible.
If this is the way it goes, I’ll even consider taking the park off my “worst in the state list.” Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another 10 years.
Scott Valentine has a master’s of science in hydrology and leads the Earth Science Department at Lake Tahoe Community College.