Q&A: Looking back over 50 years of South Lake Tahoe
50th Anniversary Celebration Schedule
Saturday, Sept. 19
10 a.m. — Anniversary Parade
12:30 p.m. — Bijou Bike grand opening
1 p.m. — Bike park open to public
1:30 p.m. — SLT police kids bike rodeo
2 p.m. — Jump Jam
3:30 p.m. — BMX Race
All Day — Deep Blue Derby roller derby tournament
*Parade starts at the “Y” and ends at Bijou Park
There’s local, longtime local, and then there’s Laurel Ames. Since 1947, Ames has called South Lake Tahoe home. To say that she has seen some changes to the South Shore, where she grew up, would be an understatement. When she came to town with her family at age 7, around 300 people resided in the area. Tourist season went from July 4 to Labor Day. Almost all of the houses were cabins along the highway — because it was plowed in the winter. There was no airport, no high school. She started school here in two one-room school houses. She said it wasn’t until the 1950s that the area got a four-classroom school.
While South Lake Tahoe has seen a boom in motels, housing, and shopping areas through the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Ames’ original house — from which her dad ran a rental shop — still stands on the side of Highway 89. She no longer lives there. It’s now the Alpina coffee shop and the highway in front of it is much wider — and lined with less trees.
Now in her 70s, Ames is not thrilled about how big and crowded the area has become. But there’s a reason she’s called it home for so long. It’s what’s outside city limits. She still loves the landscape, so much so that she remains an active member in the Tahoe area Sierra Club.
With the city celebrating the 50th anniversary of its incorporation — a project Ames was a part of — Tahoe Daily Tribune chatted with her to get a feel for the place she’s called home for so long. She made time for us before heading out on a hike.
What was the idea behind incorporating the city?
Decisions were being made for Tahoe in Placerville. Eventually by the time we were incorporated, Tahoe was the largest source of income in El Dorado County. We had no control (prior), so we started an incorporation effort.
What do you think of Tahoe now?
It’s certainly not the Tahoe of my childhood. It’s hard. There are more people and more stuff. It’s sort of incrementally changed from a small, very quiet place to a bustling tourist area.
What has kept you here so long?
What keeps me here is the immediate access to the backcountry. Ten minutes and I can be in the backcountry.
And the skiing. It was really nice to be near skiing. That’s my draw. The traffic jams and ugliness are definitely a downer though.
What are the biggest changes?
Well, what is a percentage increase from 300 to 23,000 (people)?
It adds congestion. It’s just not a quiet place anymore. The thing I notice the most are all the big trees. There are still big trees, but it’s few and far between. The “Y” used to have these big, big ponderosa pines. That’s a huge change.
And likewise for the roads. They had to cut down a lot of trees for the roads to be widened.
With ski season coming, how has skiing changed?
Ski Run was two rope tows. Skiing wasn’t the event it is now. It was rope tows. But people who were skiers came and skied.
What do you think of the future of the area?
I do think people are becoming very alarmed about how their places are changing … There’s always work going on to preserve anything that protects the land, protects the lake.
From a Sierra Club standpoint what’s your biggest concern?
There’s not much regulation. That’s very scary.
What do you still enjoy and like about the area?
What’s good is you can still get to the natural places. That’s what I do. I go hiking. There’s hiking, there’s backcountry skiing, you can go and sit someplace where it’s quiet … It’s the sense of space; it’s the sense of natural environment; it’s the rocks and the sky. It’s very special.