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Season kick-off may be slow

Patrick McCartney

By Memorial Day in most years, Tahoe residents have removed the canvas from their boats in storage and returned the boats to a mooring buoy or slip for the season.

Not this year.

“There’s no question about it: we’ve never seen so few boats in the water at this time of the year,” said Roger Gadsby, operations manager at the 89-slip Lakeside Marina near Stateline. “The harbor is as empty as I’ve seen it in five years. You just can’t control the weather.”

Weeks of cloudy weather and a spate of May snowstorms has left the Tahoe Basin with a fattened snowpack that might hinder some outdoor recreation. Forecasts call for warmer and sunnier weather for the weekend, yet with a cutoff low off the Oregon coast, weather forecasters are hedging their bets.

But El Nino’s last hurrah may also prove an attraction for some over the holiday weekend that signals the traditional beginning of Lake Tahoe’s. For the first time, Heavenly Ski Resort has re-opened its lifts for two days of spring skiing on Saturday and Sunday, with lift tickets discounted to $12.

“The opportunity to ski on Memorial Weekend is a big deal for us,” said resort marketer Andy Chapman. The resort will operate four lifts on the mountain’s California side.

With the Bay Area still drying out from a record wet season, interest in escaping to Lake Tahoe has been strong, said Phil Weidinger, public relations director for the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

“It looks like the town is booking up nicely,” Weidinger said on Thursday after checking the major South Shore hotels and reservation systems. “We’ve had some pretty good weekends lately.”

Visitors will encounter a Tahoe Basin still draped in a deep snowpack. The snowpack begins 1,200 feet up the trail Eagle Lake and Desolation Wilderness, said Don Lane of the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. Most outdoor walks will be limited to lower elevations.

“Only the well-prepared and intrepid will be hiking into the wilderness until the snowpack recedes,” Lane said. “People who are very cautious may be able to pick their way across the ice pack. With the snow conditions we have now, my educated guess is that most areas probably won’t be open until late June. Some high passes, like Phipps Pass, may not melt the whole season.”

But visitors will find most of the basin’s campgrounds open for business. Emma Payne of California Land Management, which operates six Forest Service campgrounds in the basin will be open.

“Reservations have been pretty good in spite of the cold weather. They’re coming in,” Payne said. “I’ve been telling everybody to come on up; it’s beautiful.”

Most California State Park campgrounds will also be open for the Memorial Day weekend, with only Emerald Bay State Park campground closed until June 19 because of reduced demand until the weather warms up.

The Forest Service will re-open its visitors center and Taylor Creek profile chamber for the season Saturday. For the first time, the profile chamber will be open from just Wednesday to Sunday until June 20, when both facilities will be open daily.

Mike St. Michel, the director of the South Shore visitors center, said the Forest Service has decided to open the profile chamber only when staff is available to act as hosts. The 20-year old facility underwent a $500,000 facelift last year, reopening just in time for the fall salmon run on Taylor Creek.

The redesigned facility features ceiling-to-floor windows that give visitors an underwater view of the trout and salmon, and a 270-degree diorama of the Taylor Creek environment with a mural that depicts the stream and its wildlife through the four season.

After the reopening, 30,000 people visited the new profile chamber in three weeks. Although admission is free, visitors impressed by the new facility donated $2,600 to help out. The donations will be matched by the nonprofit National Forest Foundation.

“People were very generous in a short period of time,” St. Michel said. “Everything we collected goes back into the maintenance.”

While high water may make portions of the self-guided Rainbow Trail at Taylor Creek inaccessible this weekend, the Forest Service is improving portions of the nature trail.

“We want it to be of the same caliber as the stream profile chamber,” St. Michel said.

And finally, with the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California gaining the lease for Meeks Bay Resort, the West Shore resort will open for day visitors and campers Saturday, with a grand opening scheduled for June 19.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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