Snowmobile access stirs debate at Lake Tahoe |

Snowmobile access stirs debate at Lake Tahoe

Laney Griffo |
Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the Forest Service will hold two open houses next week to hear concerns and ideas.

Open houses scheduled

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the Forest Service has scheduled two open houses for people to address concerns or offer ideas about the plan. They’ve also extended the public comment period through Dec. 9, 2019.

The two opens houses:

3-5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the Parasol Building in Incline Village.

3-5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14 at LTBMU Supervisor’s Office in South Lake Tahoe.

To look at the full plan or to give feedback, visit

Proposed changes in terrain for over snow vehicles has sparked a lively debate at Lake Tahoe.

The new plan issued by the Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit unlocks new areas to OSV use while closing some terrain that is currently available.

The need for change came after the Forest Service issued a rule governing OSV management in 2015 (Subpart C of the Travel Management Rule) that says “the Forest Service will analyze and authorize areas that are open to OSV use,” said Ashley Sibr, recreation planner for LTBMU.

This proposal, that is still open for public comment, will bring LTBMU’s practices more in alignment with Subpart C.

The Forest Service created a plan in 2016 based on the feedback they got from the community and stakeholders. This proposal would move toward the desired conditions that are in the plan.

“As stewards of public lands, we’re required to look at the land across a spectrum of users,” Sibr said. “So we have different users here that have different ideas about what their optimal recreation activity is or should be and so as part of the travel management rule, we are required to look at areas that can be open to OSV use and decide whether OSV use could occur there without having a significant impact on other resources.”

The Forest Service identified several issues, including lack of parking, lack of groomed trails, and increased non-motorized recreation.

Another issue they wanted to remedy was inconsistencies with maps. Sibr said in some of the small areas on the map, it was unclear whether they were open or closed to OSV use.

The Forest Service decided to open urban lots that are adjacent to forest land that is open to OSV use, and is bigger than two acres when combined with the open areas around it.

“To the casual user, people don’t know there is some sort of parcel line,” Sibr said.

They also changed boundary lines to align with geographic features.

Some of the areas that would now be open to snowmobiles that weren’t previously include the junction of Nevada State Route 28 and U.S. Highway 50, Hartoonian Trails, east of Fallen Lake and the area between Third Creek and Nevada SR 431.

The area between Third Creek and SR 431 is being opened to offer snowmobilers a safer way to get to the Relay Ridge area. Some residents of Incline Village have expressed concern about that area being opened.

“We have folks on both sides of the issue of having access in neighborhoods,” Sibr said. “We get a lot of comments saying that there’s not enough access especially in the neighborhoods for people to go snowmobiling but then we also get comments from other folks saying that the access in the neighborhoods has a negative impact so we have to look at both sides of the issue.”

Other areas that were once open to OSV users would now be closed including Hell Hole, the area between Mt. Rose Wilderness and Incline Village, and the area near the Granite Chief wilderness and within 500 feet of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Hell Hole was closed because LTBMU found a Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frog, which is an endangered species, in that area.

One of the areas of contention has been east of SR 431 and north of Diamond Peak Ski Area, popularly known as Chickadee Ridge. The area was previously open to snowmobiles but now OSV users will only be able to use that area on odd-numbered days of the month. Non-motorized users could use that area on all days.

Members of both OSV and non-motorized groups are displeased with the proposal as is.

“The impacts are profound for both user groups but for the non-motorized user groups, the proposal will push us out of every single place that we love to go,” said Gail Ferrell.

Ferrell is the vice president of programs and outreach for Snowlands Network, a non-profit that advocates for the protection of opportunities for quality human-powered winter recreation and protecting winter wildlands.

According to Ferrell, there are 40,000 individual visitors in the winter along Mt. Rose Highway.

“There is a displacement that goes on,” Ferrell said. “Where snowmobiles are used, other users that are human-powered avoid them, generally speaking, because that’s not why we’re there. We’re there for the peace and quiet.”

The head of Sierra Snowmobile Foundation, Dennis Troy, also expressed concerns over the proposal. He doesn’t think opening the area on odd-numbered days makes sense.

“People get their days mixed up and then they start arguing with each other about who should be there who shouldn’t be there,” Troy said “Not everybody’s going to know the rules and so it needs to be either open or it needs to be closed.”

Both groups are willing to work with each other to find the best solution.

“We’ll certainly work with the Forest Service and I think they have some ideas of why they want these areas closed,” Troy said. “We’ll be digging into that and working collaboratively to find a resolution that appeases everyone. Is everybody going to be appeased? No, but we can obviously get as close as possible.”

Losing the snowmobile industry in the basin would likely have an impact with people seeking recreation elsewhere.

“Anytime that you’re going to be closing down areas, people are inevitably going to go someplace else which means that they’re going to be taking their dollars elsewhere,” Troy said.

Troy also said it’s not just an economic incentive, it’s an access incentive. The once-pro skier can’t access the backcountry the same way he used to due to knee injuries. Snowmobiles allow him to get away from the busy resorts and ski in the backcountry.

Ferrell said she’s gotten feedback from the snowmobile community to create an alternative that would work for both groups. She wants U.S. 50 southward to Kingsbury would be mostly motorized as well as McKinney Rubicon because those areas are large enough to accommodate for snowmobiles.

This proposal is still in the scoping phase. Sibr and her team are asking for alternatives they can analyze and a draft will be written based on those alternatives.

“This is our first attempt at taking all of the previous input from over the last 10 years and coming up with a proposed action, but it’s really meant to provide people for something to provide input on and we will use those comments to develop alternatives that we will analyze,” Sibr said. “We’re really looking for the community, if possible, to come together in a collaborative way to provide us an alternative that represents the combined vision of the snowmobile community and the non-motorized community.”

One part of the proposal that everyone can agree on is the need for more parking.

Sibr and her team are really encouraging people to give their feedback. They’ve extended the public comment period through Dec. 9, 2019.

They’ve also scheduled two open houses this month.

The first will be from 3-5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the Parasol Building in Incline Village.

The second will be from 3-5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14 at LTBMU Supervisor’s Office in South Lake Tahoe.

To look at the full plan or to give feedback, visit

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