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Tahoe Rim Trail opening celebrations

On a warm July morning 17 years ago, a group of 25 men and women carrying shovels, hoes and rock bars broke earth on a mountainside on Lake Tahoe’s south shore, beginning a long, arduous labor of love to construct the Tahoe Rim Trail, a dream that has captivated thousands of people for two decades.

On Saturday, the dream will be realized when the 150-mile-long trail is inaugurated amid celebrations attended by volunteers, officials and members of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association whose sweat, money, perseverance and organization turned a nebulous idea into reality.

”It’s wonderful. I feel I’ve been sliding into home run,” said Lynda McDowell, who has been the executive director of the TRTA for 11 years.



More than 10,000 volunteers spent 200,000 hours over 20 years to complete the trail, considered one of the largest volunteer projects in America. The trail, which loops along the ridges circling Lake Tahoe, cost $5 million to build and was funded almost entirely by donations.

“Volunteerism is America,” said Robert McDowell, a Forest Service officer who was the leader of the first crew of volunteers who began work on the trail on July 14, 1984.



The Tahoe Rim Trail was the brainchild of Glenn Hampton, a former recreation officer of the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, who, in the late 1970’s, began considering the possibility of building a peak to peak trail around the Lake. The idea caught on and the Tahoe Rim Trail Association was formed in 1981. Work began in 1984.

There was no dedication ceremony, just a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, recalls Robert McDowell. Wooden stakes were pounded into the ground indicating the central line on the trail. The crew worked all day.

“It was part of my official responsibility,” since the trail was on Forest Service land, said Robert McDowell. “But I was captivated by the idea.” Since then, like thousands of others, McDowell has lost count of the number of hours and days he spent working on the trail.

The trail could be built only during the summer and fall in accordance with regulations of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which dictates that earth can be broken in the Tahoe basin only between May 1 and Oct. 15. Between two to 10 miles were constructed every year, depending on the terrain. The winters were spent in planning for the following year, documentation, rewriting brochures and recruiting members.

The project went through many hurdles during its 20 years, the largest being permits to go ahead with certain sections of the trail. Then there were the issues of cultural and environmental sensitivities such as the proposed trail passing through Washoe Indian land, and disturbing endangered wildlife.

However, despite the hurdles, the trail was completed because of the perseverance and patience of the people involved in the project, said Lynda McDowell.

The trail, between heights of 6,300 and 10,300 feet, winds through two states, six counties, three national parks, state parkland and three wilderness area. It is open to hikers, horse-back riders, and in most areas, mountain bikers. Approximately 3,000 people use the trail every week during peak summer and fall months.

Two weeks ago, a group of 18 men and women began a hike around the trail with the aim of becoming the first group to officially complete the 150-mile loop. The group, called the ”Celebration Thru-Hikers” are scheduled to complete their hike to coincide with the grand opening of the trail on Saturday, said team leader Steve Andersen in a phone interview from a location on the trail 36 miles from the celebration venue.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is the grand opening keynote speaker. Trail founder Glenn Hampton, TRTA staff and past president and several government agencies will help commemorate the celebration along with volunteers.

“As the celebration draws near, people have a tremendous pride in what they’ve done, both individually and collectively,” said Robert McDowell. ”They have a sweat equity in the project and they want to be remembered for it.”

What: Tahoe Rim Trail Opening Celebration

When: 2 pm to 4 pm on Saturday, Sept. 22

Where: Forest Service road – 16N92 (North Lake Tahoe). However, because of parking problems, members of the public will be picked up from North Star Tahoe Ski Resort at 1 p.m. and will be ferried to the Forest Service road. They will then be taken on a 10-minute walk on a single track trail to the event venue, which is on a portion of the TRT.

Contact: Tahoe Rim Trail Association at 775-588-0686


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