The ‘Impossible Dream’ – the story of how it became a reality
Tahoe Daily Tribune
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – If you have ever wondered while hiking along the Tahoe Rim Trail how such a wonderful trail could exist, you are not alone.
This trail was an idea that belonged to Glenn Hampton when he was transferred to the Lake Tahoe area in the 1970s as a recreation and resource officer for the U.S. Forest Service. Hampton thought of the trail around the lake as his “impossible dream.”
“One day while hiking I thought about building a trail completely around Lake Tahoe,” Hampton said. “I thought it should be at the highest ridges around the lake so that it would be light on the land.”
The rim trail is one reason many locals live at Lake Tahoe – to enjoy the summer months of hiking – and why so many visitors continue to travel here each summer. People have traveled here to hike on the trail from all over the country, including as far away as Switzerland and Australia.
The Tahoe Rim Trail known as the ultimate trail for hikers, bikers and even equestrians. It is a 24-inch, single-track trail that covers 165 miles along the ridge tops of the Lake Tahoe Basin, crossing two states and six counties. It also overlaps with approximately 50 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.
And it surely didn’t become a trail overnight.
“My impossible dream came to fruition because of hundreds of thousands of volunteers that never, never lost sight of this impossible dream over 23 years ago,” said Hampton in a telephone interview from his home in upstate New York.
When Hampton attended a class at Utah Sate University, the project first started moving. At Utah he had the time to put the project on paper because the U.S. Forest Service gave him time off to attend the class. It was also at this point when Hampton learned the Appalachian Trail was looking for six projects that needed help. When he gave Appalachian Trail officials a copy of the report he put together on the trail for the class, the Tahoe Rim Trail was selected as one of the six projects they would help.
“Recognition was now at the national level,” Hampton said.
Now Hampton was ready to start working on that “Impossible Dream.” He started by putting together a group that would serve as a board.
“I wanted the board to represent a cross section of people in the Tahoe area,” Hampton explained.
That is why his board included representatives from the Boy Scouts, the Sierra Club, the State Parks of Nevada as well as many other individuals and groups. This board started by putting together a plan of action to develop the trail in the late 70s, and it’s now known as the Tahoe Rim Trail Association.
“But not a shovel was moved on the trail until the early 80s,” Hampton said.
Trail construction began July 14, 1984, and Hampton said many times he questioned whether or not it was just too much to accomplish. But in September of 2001, Hampton came back to Nevada to attend the official Grand Opening Celebration of the Tahoe Rim Trail.
Anyone who has used the rim trail can appreciate all of the hours and passion of those who stuck with the project to see it to completion. It took more than 15,000 volunteers donating more than 250,000 hours, Hampton said.
“When people hike the trail, it changes their lives,” said local resident Steve Andersen. “It did with me, and it does to people I’ve guided on the trail.”
Andersen’s life really has changed because of hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail. Andersen was living in Mill Valley, Calif., when he hiked on the trail for the first time with a backpacking buddy in 1998. Andersen is also the first documented person to have hiked the entire 165 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail.
“That’s where it started,” Andersen said. “I read an article in “Backpacker Magazine” about this little trail that was almost completed, except for 20 miles.”
Andersen had wanted to hike the John Muir Trail, but due to late winters every time he planned to hike it, he had to find an alternative location. That is when he first learned about the Tahoe Rime Trail and planned the trip.
“Oh my God, Oh my God,” Andersen said he told his buddy as they were hiking the rime trail for the first time. “I can see where we are going and where I’ve been.”
Andersen also told his hiking buddy on that trip that some day he was going to live at Lake Tahoe. That “someday” eventually happened and Andersen and his wife, Claudia, do live full time at Lake Tahoe. Andersen said he has hiked the entire 165 miles seven times and will be making his eighth trip beginning Sept. 7. He plans to do it solo and hopes to complete it in 11 days.
Andersen was intrigued on his first hike around the TRT, not just for the views it affords, but also for the way it was built.
“It really struck me that people had to build this trail,” Andersen said.
Many hikers become so passionate after hiking on the trail they spend hours of time each year as volunteers. Volunteers who work as guides, as trail builders and crew leaders. Each year, for National Trails Day, hundreds of volunteers turn out to learn how to build and help maintain this treasure.
The Tahoe Rim Trail Association, a volunteer, nonprofit 501(c)3 organization established in 1981 to plan, construct and maintain the Tahoe Rim Trail, today focuses on improving and maintaining the rim trail. The grassroots organization’s current board of directors consists of approximately 25 members.
The main focus of the organization at the beginning was to complete the 165 miles around the lake. Now the organization is also focused on its future. Just read the mission of this group:
“A trail that is not used and maintained will soon be taken back by nature. For this reason it is necessary to promote the use and maintenance of the trail. In addition there are many sections, which do not meet the high standards established for the Tahoe Rim Trail. Sections that follow roads or are too steep need to be completely rebuilt or even moved. These improvements may require Environmental Assessments, which are very expensive. Despite the fact that this association is largely run by volunteers it requires money to keep the dream alive. We need the help of everyone interested in Tahoe to keep the trail viable into the new millennium.”
And just how do they plan to accomplish this now that the trail is completed? By maintaining an average of 1,000 volunteers who provide 10,000 hours of work on the trail every year.
“I have no doubt the TRTA will be able to raise volunteers and donations to build and maintain the trails for 10 years and more. We have a very strong volunteer base and have many new miles to build over the next 5+ years,” said Chuck Greene, a TRTA board member. “We have 1,800+ members now and continue to grow our membership base. And we have been and continue to build our endowment for the future support of the trail.”
Greene was responsible for implementing the TRTA Trail Guardian program. Through this program donations are deposited into an endowment fund with the Parasol Foundation located in Incline Village. He also has worked on another major gift donor program, Adopt-A-Vista, which allows donors to name a designated spot along the trail in honor or memory of someone.
TRTA offers special programs to teach and educate users how to help maintain the trail. They offer guide and hike leader training, teach classes on trail building from start to finish, offer wilderness first aid courses for anyone interested in backcountry experiences and teach Leave No Trace skills and ethics.
Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to go far on any part of the trail without meeting another hiker, biker or equestrian. It is no longer a secret that only locals know about. The trail has been listed in publications as the best hiking trail in Nevada, recognized as a National Recreation Trail and in 2007 was listed as one of the top 10 destinations in the country. So our secret is out and now we need to protect it.
“That’s the other part of what the association does – our trail gets maintained so that it can exist forever,” Andersen said. “With our Leave no Trace programs we hope that it will be here for our children and our children’s children.”
And as far as future trail extensions? Well, there are plenty.
“We are building new trail now on the southeast portion of the trail, adding 13 miles, and we will be building the Rim to Reno section hopefully starting next year. There are also plans to build a new section of trail up from the Carson Valley in future years. And we have a number of loops and connectors as well we would like to build,” Greene said. “All those extra miles will help keep users spread over the expanded trail and reduce any overuse.”
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