Several players; one common goal |

Several players; one common goal

Greg Risling

Nude sunbathers, parking lots and a bus system. It doesn’t have the makings of a good TV movie but it might make one heck of a documentary. Three platforms, one goal: Improve the environment and sustain the summer tide of visitors to the East Shore.

Consensus-building has been a cornerstone of Lake Tahoe recently, hitting a fever pitch when President Clinton and Vice President Gore visited in July. The clamor for results in forest health, traffic and tourism can sometimes be deafening. To some degree, all three issues will be intertwined over the next several weeks as the public will contribute to the dialogue about parking on State Route 28.

The first of three meetings will be held on Wednesday morning at the North Tahoe Conference Center in Kings Beach. Subsequent sessions are scheduled for South Lake Tahoe on March 11 and Carson City on March 18.

Environmental planners want big crowds for the public hearings but Wednesday’s 9:30 a.m. timing may not get a big response. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency staff is trying to schedule a night meeting to attract more people.

The meetings are the prime chance for the public to have their views heard on the parking crunch, say planners. All comments will be compiled in a future environmental plan that will identify the best option for the East Shore.

Part of the “Tahoe experience” is a leisurely drive along SR 28. Designated in 1996 as one of only 14 National Scenic Byways, the East Shore provides visitors with breathtaking views of the lake, secluded beaches and a fair amount of mountain bike and hiking trails. Getting away from it all is part of the area’s charm.

However, over time the lure of the East Shore has also damaged its pristine state. Visitors have swarmed in flocks on hot summer days and human nature is taking its toll on nature.

The rugged terrain poses a challenge for visitors on their way to the shoreline. Although there are distinct, marked trails some have found alternate routes to the beaches. The further south of popular Chimney Beach, the tougher the traverse. Careless hiking has eroded the soil resulting in a nutrient runoff into the lake. Manzanita bushes have been trampled, new trails carved and trash left behind.

Probably the most significant concern is the amount of parking. With only three lots at Chimney Beach, Sand Harbor and Secret Harbor, and a few turnouts, most people resort to parking on the highway shoulder. There are proponents who want to rid the shoulder parking because the cars take away from the experience. Without a viable option, officials say, the access will be reduced dramatically.

Some alternatives do exist including several parking lots identified in a 1996 recreational study or running a summer shuttle program from Incline Village and Spooner Summit to various points on the East Shore. The shuttle had its share of critics when it launched its first season last summer. The shuttle and the elimination of more shoulder parking blew a foul wind among beachgoers. Ridership went up when the parking went down. Transit officials want a sophomore season for the shuttle but they have to find the bucks first.

Planners want a peaceful co-existence between agencies and East Shore users while preserving the land. They know the first step in a long process is presenting the debate in a public forum.

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