Wait for it … Tahoe officials ask visitors to stay away while bracing for surge

Danielle Starkey
Tahoe Daily Tribune
Lake Tahoe looks mighty inviting, but officials are asking tourists to stay away a little longer and not visit this Memorial Day weekend.
CJ Varela / Divided Line Photography

With Memorial Day around the corner and temperatures this weekend expected to be in the 70s with clear blue skies, Tahoe officials are bracing for a wave of visitors who bust out of their shelter-in-place mode, ignore the travel ban and head to the lake.

The message city and county officials are sending to them is: “Please don’t!”

They’re also saying, if you do come up, be prepared for the public bathrooms to be locked and restaurants may not offer any recourse, since many are still closed. Parking will be limited.

Although guidance to avoid nonessential travel is still in play in California and Nevada, no one is under any illusions that people will universally adhere to that guidance.

“We’re still encouraging people not to come,” said Shannon Laney, support lieutenant with the South Lake Tahoe Police department. “Our message is still, ‘not now.’ But the weather’s going to be nice; people are going to come up. Telling them not to is like shoveling sand against the tide, at this point.”

No one from the police department will be targeting out-of-town visitors, he emphasized.

“We won’t be stopping people, asking them where they’re from, or checking their car to see where it’s registered,” he said.

That doesn’t mean bad behavior will be excused, he added.

“We’re in a reactive kind of approach,” he said. “We’re still protecting our properties, patrolling neighborhoods, being visible.”

Plus, they are protecting their officers by not exposing them to tourists.

Police officers also won’t try to manage people who are ignoring social distancing or other safety guidelines, Laney said.

“We’re not going to go into a park and ask if you are sitting with your immediate family or friends, or go into a grocery store to see if you’re standing too close to people,” he said. “We’re looking for voluntary compliance. If we get a report of a violation, and if we don’t get compliance, we’ll refer them to the El Dorado County health department. They are the ones enforcing it.”

The city of South Lake Tahoe issued a plea Wednesday, asking visitors to stay away. The city said property owners are allowed to be in town but that visitors should not yet travel to the South Shore.

Carol Chaplin, president of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, whose job it is to bring people to the lake, is asking tourists to stay away for now.

“We’re closing in on that glorious day when we can safely welcome everyone back with open arms, but for now we’re required to follow the guidelines that health and governmental officials have established,” Chaplin said. “We certainly understand and appreciate everyone’s desire to visit, and hopefully this current phase is short-lived.”

The Truckee Police Department also is reminding people to not come up this weekend, even if people feel they need to check on their vacation home.

In a message posted on Tuesday, the police department urged would-be visitors to be civic-minded when considering whether to leave their own neighborhood.

“People need to think as much about whether they should travel as whether they can travel,” states the release.

“Our town leaders have continued to emphasize the importance of personal responsibility in each individual’s actions, and this is no different. There are no legal consequences for those who arrive at their (vacation) homes, if the travel to that home is for ‘essential’ purposes. If the purpose of traveling was to have a nice visit to Truckee/Tahoe, the governor and Nevada and Placer county health officers would likely view such travel as being against the spirit of the order. Travel should be for essential or business purposes only and if you have to ask what that means, it is likely not an essential reason.”

Jeff Cowen, the public information officer for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, said that people are still supposed to be staying in place this weekend, but he assumes not everyone will.

He said the agency wants to be ready with reminders of how to behave during a pandemic.

“We want (visitors) to have the tools to be here safely when they recreate,” he said. “Fresh signage that’s COVID-19-related is going up soon that warns people about social distancing and other safety practices.”

New to the collection of signs that say such things as, ‘Pack it in, pack it out’ are signs announcing, ‘It’s a beautiful day to stay in your neighborhood’ and ‘Keep safe at home,’ and ‘Go big on distancing’ with printed smaller.

That sign will soon be on a billboard on Interstate 80 near Colfax, Cowen said.

Developed campgrounds are still closed in California and Nevada, and while “dispersed camping is technically available on some Forest Service lands in the Lake Tahoe region, camping and any overnight stay is not advisable nor in alignment with the governors’ directives,” according to Cowen.

State parks, including Sugar Pine Point State Park and Emerald Bay/Vikingsholm State Park, are open, but only with what he called a ‘soft opening.’ That means that they may not have unlocked bathrooms and may have limited parking.

“Some state parks have port-a-potties that were dropped off last weekend,” he said, and added many of the park bathrooms located in buildings — equipped with sinks — are still closed.

“Once they open, they have to have the right amount of staff to clean and maintain them.”

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