Unnecessary baggage | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Unnecessary baggage

William Ferchland
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Lake Tahoe Airport Manager Smokey Rickerd describes how a fence leading into airport property has been routinely vandalized. One of several destroyed "no trespassing" signs is held by a co-worker.

There’s the garbage-strewn area used for a camp site, the repeated broken locks at a gate, the frequent damage to the perimeter fence.

And Smokey Rickerd is getting fed up.

As the Lake Tahoe Airport manager, Rickerd often tours the facility off Highway 50 and recently has found some disturbing, and unlawful, trends.

Members of the general public are prohibited from being on airport grounds unless they are in the terminal or invited or escorted by airport personnel, Rickerd said.

Yet on land to the east and north of the runways lies a paved road, access to a stretch of the Upper Truckee River and dirt trails that people evidently find irresistible, as evidenced by repeated vandalism to signs warning against trespassing and broken locks.

Rickerd said a beacon light has been turned off, posing a hazard for incoming airplanes needing identifying markers. Trash has been found to the north of the runway as well as illegal campers at a shaded area next to the river.

On Wednesday, Rickerd led a tour of the damaged areas with South Lake Tahoe police Chief Terry Daniels, police Lt. Martin Hewlett and an airport assistant.

One stop was the abandoned campsite, complete with empty beer cans, disposed AA batteries and condoms out of their wrappers. There were also mustard and ketchup packets, a half-full bottle of Jack Daniels barbecue sauce and a red Bic lighter.

Hewlett said a group was cited this month for illegal camping at the area.

Rickerd would not attribute the increase in trespassing and vandalism incidents as a response by people upset at the mass tree cutting at the north end of the airport in May.

“I’m not going to say it’s retaliation,” he said. “I think it’s not being able to use (the area). People are thinking it’s a public area, but it’s private.”

During Wednesday’s tour, a woman was seen jogging on the paved road with an unleashed retriever taking a dip in the river.

A mountain biker seemed poised to climb the fence into airport property, but might have been discouraged by the sight of Hewlett in uniform. A bear cruised through the tall grass of a meadow but was on the correct side of the fence.

As a person who often jogs in the area, Kathy Cocking said she is often confused about the signage, or lack thereof, with one saying passage is acceptable and other generic postings stating no trespassing.

She has seen the fence down and, now, up. She was confused regarding who owns the property.

“I don’t run there anymore now,” said the Barton Memorial Hospital employee. “It’s pretty obvious you’re not supposed to go through. I don’t know what made them limit the access all of a sudden.”

Rickerd said he is considering added signs with more specific language. A gate, which stands between a dirt path from Lodi Avenue and a paved road on the airport property, has two metal chains with locks ensuring its closure. Rickerd said past locks have been broken, with one filled with epoxy glue.

Daniels appeared to share Rickerd’s concern and said the police department will help combat the problem of trespassers and vandals.

“We’ll increase our patrol efforts and work with them on an informational campaign,” he said.

Daniels said people who like to float down the Upper Truckee River from Elks Club Drive and pass through airport property are not trespassing as long as they stay in their raft.

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