It won’t be long before South Shore has a third dirt track
Judging from the number of runners who still use the track at South Tahoe Middle School, you’d never know that anything is wrong with the 33-year-old surface.
Around the clock, runners young and old chug around the celebrated track, which was made famous during the 1968 U.S. Olympic Trials at Echo Summit. Of course, bicyclists routinely find their way out on the 400-meter loop as do exuberant boulder-smashing youths and name-carving teen-agers.
If the locked-up South Tahoe High football field was treated similarly, some heads would roll.
While we’re in the throes of redevelopment, the STMS track needs a new look. This isn’t news to anyone who uses the track regularly.
This relic has deteriorated into not only an eyesore, but an accident waiting to happen. Visit the track on any summer morning and you’ll quickly understand the severity of the situation. Because of the deterioration of the track’s foundation, dips are commonplace. Combined with nightly watering, the dips transform into long-lasting puddles in each of the lanes. If your graceful enough to avoid slipping in the puddles, then you better make sure you run with your knees high, because the occasional high spot could ultimately send you tumbling.
“Whenever you talk to people who have been on the track, especially the adults, they’re amazed what poor shape it’s in, and that more people haven’t been hurt on it,” said Dominique Westlake, a South Tahoe High boys cross country coach.
However, youth track coach and meet director Anthony Davis prefers the dilapidated facility to the alternative – not having one.
“It’s pretty much reached its age, but it still is a great benefit to the community even in its current state,” Davis said. “This once was a state of the art track. That’s why I contribute to the sixth-grade Olympics, STMS track meets in the spring and fourth- and fifth-grade meet, so that everyone gets to experience that thrill of yesteryear.”
But how long will this spate of luck last? Eventually, someone will take a nasty spill on the track and then seek out the perpetrators – Lake Tahoe Unified School District and the city. The city of South Lake Tahoe owns the track, while the school district possesses the property the track sits on. Consequently, neither entity is in a rush to take the initiative to replace the worn-out facility.
“For a few years people have been using it at their own risk,” said Steve Weiss, park superintendent for the city of South Lake Tahoe Parks and Recreation Department. “We’d like to rebuild it, but we don’t have the money.”
Before the city decides to eliminate its liability and rip out the old track, the school district should make plans to put in a new surface. A third dirt track on the South Shore won’t improve STHS or George Whittell’s chances of hosting a meet. At least seven years have elapsed since the Vikings hosted a Northern Nevada League meet. Only the brief Battle of the Lake series between the Warriors and Vikings gave parents a chance to see their track athletes locally.
“(Back then), Reed presented a video to the NIAA office showing that the track was not safe,” Westlake said. “Since then, Reed has not only built a track, but they’ve had it resurfaced.”
Early estimates are $150,000 to $200,000 for a new surface and to possibly extend the facility by two lanes to make it a standard eight-lane track. But before that can happen the school district needs to realize that the track team is being unfairly treated compared to its other sports.
“Ultimately, it’s the school district that’s responsible if they want to have a quality track program,” Westlake said. “They need to provide something for the team to work out on so they can be successful. It’s always been talked about, but nothing has been discussed to put a plan together. “
Davis and former STHS track coach Rick Brown nobly laid the groundwork for financing a new track a few years back. But their now defunct South Tahoe Track Foundation never received the support it deserved. One of their ideas back then was to auction sections of the Olympic Trials track.
That’s not a bad start. Another bond measure is another possibility.
As varied in age as the people are who use the track, everyone should share in the cost of bringing South Lake Tahoe up to speed with other fitness-minded communities.
“I still have a dream,” Davis said. “In my dream there will be a new track in South Lake Tahoe one day.”
Westlake is also holding out hope.
“It doesn’t look very hopeful at this point, but anything can happen.”
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