For many, including California State Parks staff, turning The Meadow into golf green is a practical matter—the Lake Tahoe Golf Course is one of the top revenue-generating parks in the state. For others, putting a golf course on the land that is the social, psychological and spatial center of community is anathema to their sense of Sierra place and a blow to the civic fabric of a neighborhood.
AUGUST 19, 2011
This Friday, October 21 at 9:00 a.m., the California State Parks Commission will meet at the clubhouse of the Lake Tahoe Golf Course at Lake Valley State Recreation Area, 2500 Emerald Bay Road, South Lake Tahoe, California where decisions about the River restoration project and associated land use will be made.
“The Meadow” is also known as Washoe Meadows State Park. Anyone who lives in “the county” (unincorporated El Dorado ) knows that The Meadow is the center of the neighborhood, the place to greet one another on an evening stroll, to ride bikes on the weekends, to cross-country ski on winter days and to recreate, be refreshed and renewed. The Meadow takes your breath away as you come out of the forest into a wide expanse of short grasses rimmed by trees and views of snowcapped Echo, Flagpole and Red Lakes peaks. The Meadow's broad expanse of deep blue sky unique to the high altitude western landscape makes it a year-round destination. The colors of The Meadow change dramatically with the seasons. Right now, in October, it is in shades of gold, brown, yellow and red.
The Meadow is the emblematic feature that gives a sense of place to the people who live in the neighborhood bordering it to the west. It is the grounding feature of this neighborhood whose current manifestation originated in the California conservation community and Sierra Club struggle to keep what is now the State Park land from being developed into a subdivision 30 years ago.
But outside of the nearby residents not many people know The Meadow exists. At least they didn’t until 2005 when the interest in restoring the reach of the Upper Truckee River that runs by The Meadow came to light. Lake Tahoe is suffering from an imponderable amount of fine sediment being washed into it every year, which decreases water clarity and brings with it many deleterious effects. Though there are 63 tributaries to Lake Tahoe one of them is by-far the most-detrimental to the system—the Upper Truckee River—carrying tons of sediment into the Lake each year. Much of the sediment from the Upper Truckee River comes from stream bank erosion. The 1.5-miles of the Upper Truckee River that runs through Washoe Meadows State Park contributes sediment to the Lake Tahoe system. The obvious remedy: restore the river. This can be done in a way that the Upper Truckee River meanders and occasionally overflows and its banks stay intact. River restoration is a “win” for Lake Tahoe water clarity, the beauty of the River and the integrity of the ecosystem. No one disputes the value of well-executed restoration of the Upper Truckee River.
Here’s the rub: a meandering river needs space. On the east side of this stretch of the Upper Truckee is the Lake Tahoe Golf Course also known as Lake Valley State Recreation Area and also managed by California State Parks. It is a lovely course that accommodates the golfer with the same blue sky and fabulous view that The Meadow on the other side of the river accommodates the “dispersed recreationist” —the hiker/biker/picnicker/cross-country skiier—with. California State Parks staff contend that the approximately 500 acres that the State Park Agency manages can sufficiently accommodate both the golfing and the dispersed recreation public when approximately half of the golf course is moved to west side of the River to accommodate the proposed restoration. The State Park land is likely big enough. However, The Meadow is not. And it is The Meadow’s use that is in contention. The meadow can accommodate golfing OR walking/running/biking/horseback riding, not both types of use.
“I think [Lake Tahoe] stands as a microcosm of the larger issues we face as a people,” said California Governor Jerry Brown in his August 16, 2011 speech at Lake Tahoe. The Washoe Meadows debate is a hallmark of the soul-searching that Californians are doing on the subject of conservation in the twenty-first century. Open, diverse-use public space is critical to California’s self-image, especially in a place like Tahoe. The conservation community fought hard fifty years ago to have Washoe Meadow acquired by their ally–the California State Parks. Now the State Park System–struggling to stay in existence throughout the state–wants to restore the River (which conservationists agree is the right thing to do) but in a way that would displace the dispersed recreation user group’s values with the golf user group’s values on The Meadow. For many, including the State Parks staff, turning The Meadow into golf green is a practical matter--the Lake Tahoe Golf Course is one of the top revenue-generating parks in the state. For others, putting a golf course on the land that is the social, psychological and spatial center of community is anathema to their sense of Sierra place and a blow to the civic fabric of a neighborhood.
A decision will be made. While opponents of the golf course on The Meadow have argued that alternative uses are valuable and have the potential to generate revenues, studies demonstrate that any revenue that could be generated would not approach that which is brought in by the 18-hole golf course. No viable alternatives to relocating the golf course have been identified that also accommodate river restoration. This Friday, October 21 at 9:00 a.m., the California State Parks Commission will meet at the clubhouse of the Lake Tahoe Golf Course at Lake Valley State Recreation Area, 2500 Emerald Bay Road, South Lake Tahoe, California. The agenda features consideration and possible action on a Department of Parks and Recreation recommendation to transfer land on either side of the Upper Truckee River in order to relocate a portion of the golf course and restore the River. The agenda also features an item to adopt the general plan amendment for the Lake Valley State Recreation Area.
Washoe Meadows Community | Restore the river. Preserve the park.
Restore Upper Truckee | Environmental Impact Statement Executive Summary (large file)
Restore Upper Truckee | State Parks Project Information
The Lake Tahoe TMDL | Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board
CA State Parks | Public Notice of Meeting
Tahoe Regional Planning Agency | October 2010 Public Hearing Minutes in December 2010 Board Packet
Tahoe Project | California's Secretary Laird on Interstate Relations (relevant observations about the conservation community in California)
Bureau of Reclamation | Press Release about Upper Truckee River Environmental Documents (2010)