Caltrans limits parking along Lake Tahoe, stirs controversy

Blood pressure is rising among backcountry skiers in the Lake Tahoe area and not just because of elevation. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has downsized some highly used pullouts along Highway 89 in the West Shore Region. For skiers who use those pullouts for parking to access some favorite Tahoe bc zones, the environmental improvements have been a tough pill to swallow.


The mountains in Tahoe may be big, but there is limited parking to access them. [Photo] Vladimer Shioshvili

“As I understand it, we have lost 70 percent of the parking spaces at any given trailhead,” says Brendan Madigan, the owner of Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City, Calif. “The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) is doing right for the protection of the lake, but this caught the backcountry community off guard.”

According to the Lake Tahoe Caltrans website, these improvements are intended to ensure the health of the Tahoe Basin through the capture of runoff and filtration of sediment from the highway. Improvements include the downsizing of a number of pullouts along the seven-mile stretch of Highway 89 between Meeks Bay and Emerald Bay because of the backfill needed to cover the drain collection units intended to filter runoff.

Filtration systems like this are covered by backfill, reducing parking lot size. [Photo] Courtesy of

Filtration systems like this are covered by backfill, reducing pullout size. [Photo] Courtesy of

“What we’ve done with those turnouts is that we’ve paved them but we’ve also reduced the width and put rock barriers behind them with vegetation, which was part of our agreement with TRPA to reduce turnouts,” says Steve Nelson, Tahoe Basin Outreach Coordinator for Caltrans. “We use these turnouts for maintenance vehicle pullouts. From our perspective these pullouts were never official parking spots.”

Nelson acknowledges that these changes impact backcountry skiers. Caltrans has agreed to pave and increase parking at the D.L. Bliss State Park pullout—close to Emerald Bay—to accommodate backcountry skiers.

Madigan remains in support of the environmental work that TRPA does for the area, but he believes that there could have been more outreach to backcountry stakeholders before the project moved forward. He is hopeful, however, that this conflict will ultimately bring the backcountry community together.

“We won’t get our old parking back,” Madigan says, “but we will get to work with those state agencies and the newly formed Tahoe Backcountry Alliance to decide where parking is needed and help those agencies who are supposed to take into account public access to public lands.”

Steve Nelson reiterates this sentiment and hopes for better communication between stakeholders in the West Shore area and the state agencies in charge of planning public road and environmental projects.

“We know there are issues out there with the backcountry folks,” Nelson says, “so that is why I am hoping everyone can sit down and figure out some solutions. It is a tough balancing act, but I am confident that everyone can work something out.”

Learn more about this issue at On Friday, October 23 at 6 p.m. there will be a community meeting at the Meeks Bay Fire Station to discuss various Caltrans paving projects and their impacts on backcountry access. Find out more about the meeting at the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance’s Facebook page.

Related posts:

Speak Your Mind