How are we rising to the call for innovative stewardship of our public lands for the twenty-first century? Once again, a Lake Tahoe issue—this time Washoe Meadows State Park—comes to the fore on the crest of an issue crashing on the California shore. Close examination and thorough contemplation of the issues inherent to the Washoe Meadows State Park debate can serve a greater good.
PHOTO: Browsing Bears, Washoe Meadows State Park, by Judy Kennedy
AUGUST 22, 2011
by Michelle Sweeney for TahoeProject.org
The five members of the California State Parks Commission present at the October 20, 2011 meeting voted unanimously in favor of the steps that make way for a transfer of half of the 18-hole Lake Tahoe Golf course to the west side of the Upper Truckee River to accommodate river restoration. This vote was much to the consternation of the over-one-hundred residents of the neighborhood west of the River—advocates of status quo in the dispersed recreational use of the area west of the River called Washoe Meadows State Park. For some people present the sentiment was relief—relief that dispute over the move of half of the golf course to the west side of the River would not derail the river restoration effort. For still other members of the public present, the key issue was the integrity of the 18-hole golf course regardless of its placement on the landscape.
“We opened up to the larger public the amenities here and went out of the way for the locals to make sure we are addressing their needs,” said Commission Vice Chair Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kogerman of Laguna Hills regarding the vote. “Our role as State Parks includes providing opportunities for recreation,” said the Colonel, referring to the last line of the State Parks mission statement which says, “Provide for the health, inspiration and education of the people of California by … creating opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation.” The Colonel went on to say, “This is an asset that people from all over the state and the country use. Seventy percent of the golfers on this course come from outside of the area. This is not just a local issue but most of the rhetoric that opposed what we did today was local.”
Bob Anderson’s remarks during public comment begged to differ with the Colonel’s assessment. “The Tahoe Area Sierra Club has 600 members, most of whom are not neighbors of this project. Comments were also filed by the Motherlode chapter of the Sierra Club—this is 16,500 people in northern and central California. These are not ‘neighbors’ as some people would assert,” Mr. Anderson said. “Our comments submitted in November 2010 have not been substantively addressed. River restoration and golf should not be coupled,” he asserted. He went on to say, “A balancing of the interests is represented by the alternative that would result in a better river, a better park and adequate golf.” Mr. Anderson characterized the alternative that was later selected by the Commission as “result[ing] in a better river, better golf, but a worse park”.
On the need for a general plan document for the Washoe Meadows State Park, Colonel Kogerman and Mr. Anderson agree. Said the Colonel, “Why is all of the focus on the meadow? Because that is where there is access. It is not a pretty meadow. I think the proposed improvements will not only make it a nice place but will open up so many more recreational opportunities: more hiking trails, more biking trails.” When asked about the prospect of a general plan the Colonel said, “I think people are almost too afraid to address the need for a general plan for Washoe Meadows State Park because we would have to be thinking in terms of some major change. It could be nothing more than restroom facilities to go into that park to warrant going into a general plan [but this could be a big deal]. Down the road should we [make a general plan document]? Absolutely. Should we actually make that park so much better than what it is? Absolutely.” Mr. Anderson advocated for a general plan document for Washoe Meadows State Park in his remarks in this 2011 hearing as he did in the October 2010 hearing on this subject at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
This discussion comes at a time when the State Park agency and its owners—the people of California—are confronted with the very difficult challenge of redesigning the way that State Parks steward and manifest the California parks legacy. “This is a painful time in State Parks history,” said Dr. Caryl Hart, Chair of the State Park Commission. “It is a time for a new model of partnerships, for new ways of doing business,” she said. The State Park agency is seeking a way to continue stewardship of the 67 parks slated for closure due to state budget cuts to the agency. The agency is contemplating putting concessions, of which the Lake Tahoe Golf Course is an example, on up to 29 parks. It is also exploring agreements with non-profit groups as a way to keep parks open and cared for.
“I think [Lake Tahoe] stands as a microcosm of the larger issues that we face as a people,” said Governor Jerry Brown on August 16, 2011 at the Lake Tahoe Summit. Once again, a Lake Tahoe issue—this time Washoe Meadows State Park—comes to the fore on the crest of an issue crashing on the California shore. Close examination and thorough contemplation of the issues inherent to the Washoe Meadows State Park debate can serve a greater good. What is the future of California’s open space, its parks, its legacy of public access? What form will the interest groups take who will be stewards of these public lands: for-profit corporation, non-profit? How will the objectives and the character of the open space stewards shape the use of the land and the politics of the landscape? The State of California General Fund was the source of approximately 85% of the State Parks operating budget when Jerry Brown was last Governor of California. Today the General Fund provides 28% of the agency’s operating budget.
Lake Tahoe Golf Course has been the steward of the public land from which it has garnered profit for decades. Cathy Strain, professor of environmental science at Lake Tahoe Community College, praised the “environmental leadership” demonstrated by the Lake Tahoe Golf Course in their manner of managing the course and its natural resources. The residents to the west of Washoe Meadows State Park are everyday stewards of the land, picking up litter, curbing erosion through observant practice of trail use according to the flow of water on the landscape, preventing illegal resource extraction and passively observing and studying the meadow, forest and river. What are the dynamics of the relationship to be anticipated when these groups caring for the land have no river to separate their concern and ways of caring for the land?
Michael Ward, a leader of the Lake Tahoe Prosperity Center effort stated in a recent Tahoe Project interview, “innovation is the doorway to the future if the future is going to protect our desire to live a full and complete life—one in which we have access to opportunity, an enriched economic environment, where we are going to take care of the lands and assets we have. We don’t need to throw stones at one another. We need to embrace innovation.” Friends of Washoe Meadow, Tahoans, Californians, Americans; How are we rising to the call for innovative stewardship of our public lands for the twenty-first century?
California State Parks | Mission
California State Parks | Commission
capital public radio | The Future of California's Parks
TAHOE PROJECT | California Governor Jerry Brown on Tahoe
TAHOE PROJECT | California's Secretary Laird on Interstate Relations
The Sacramento Bee | Controversial plan would move golf course to reduce erosion into Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe Golf Course
Washoe Meadows Community | Restore the river. Preserve the park.
My Park Photos.com | Washoe Meadows State Park