Swimming areas on Lake Tahoe’s northeastern shore like Hidden Beach used to be accessed by parking your car on a narrow shoulder along the busy, winding, two-lane route 28, climbing over the guard rail and scrambling down a steep hillside of boulders, big pine tress and decomposed granite to the beach. On every clement summer day cars and people crowded an already crowded roadway and presented significant traffic and safety concerns to say nothing of the hassle getting to the beach; but on June 28, a roughly 3 mile section of the Tahoe East Shore Trail opened between Incline Village and Sand Harbor that enables easy foot access to Hidden Beach and other shoreline spots along the way to Sand Harbor from Incline. In this episode of the Wild Hare, Brian Bahouth and Roger Moellendorf visited the trail that snakes between route 28 and the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe and offer The Wild Hare #0002.

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On a recent weekday morning in Incline Village Nevada, the new parking lots along Tahoe Boulevard near Ponderosa Ranch Road were full. Mini vans circled. Nevada Capital News environment reporter Roger Moellendorf and I arrived around 9:00 a.m. and narrowly found parking. We then set out on our bicycles to speak to people using the new Tahoe East Shore Trail and take photographs. The apt adjective – crowded.

The twelve-foot-wide path snakes between route 28 and the shore of Lake Tahoe, a carefully designed and executed engineering project that features numerous observation points and bridges that afford heretofore unavailable views of the famous lake. There are bike repair stations at regular intervals and plenty of bike racks near lake access points.

There were groups walking, groups on bikes, dogs, runners, a party of Amish tourists whizzed past in both directions on rented e-bikes. I can still clearly see a young woman in a flowing yellow dress and white bonnet shrieking with joy as she passed me. It was a diverse and international crowd.

Andrea Scott is from Applegate California near Auburn.

“It is very family friendly, pet friendly, bike friendly, and it’s just so beautiful. I’m crazy about it and I want to come back specifically time and again to do this trail. I would come up for the day to do it.”

The start of the Tahoe East Shore Trail – image – Brian Bahouth
The names of donors – image – Brian Bahouth
The path winds through a tunnel – image – Brian Bahouth
The tunnel under route 28 – Image – Brian Bahouth, NCN

Like most projects in the Lake Tahoe basin, the new 3.5 mile section of the trail came about through the active support of a broad coalition of agencies, governments, improvement districts and individuals. The names of donors are on plaques shaped like fish and bears and adorn the trail on railings, walls and embedded in the walkway itself.

Donors names on metal bears – image – Brian Bahouth

Carl Hasty is the district manager for the Tahoe Transportation District and was giving a tour to the transportation commission members. Hasty said the district and its many partners are getting ready for the next phase of trail construction, an eight mile stretch from Sand Harbor to the junction of highway 50.

“This project is part of Tahoe’s effort to provide alternatives to people on how to get to enjoy access to Lake Tahoe. It’s what we call multimodal. You can see the pedestrians. You see the bicyclists. This is a safe way. Before we had all this, it was people’s only choice to park on the shoulder and jump over the guardrail and whatever else, so this has opened this up to a lot more people as well as creates that experience that everybody wants to have at Tahoe while safely enjoying it.

“From a transportation perspective, it gets these people off of the road and not walking in the road. So for the motorists, they’ve got a safer pathway. For people who ride bicycles on the highway, they’ve got a safer pathway. So that’s all part of the vision of TRPA’s regional transportation plan to get this all the way around the basin.”

Bike repair stations are placed at regular intervals on the trail – image – Brian Bahouth

Dick Dennon and Lynn Smith and a pair of black Labrador dogs were on the trail. Dennon lives in Incline Village and said he’s on the trail at least three times a week because it is so pet friendly

“This is the most pet friendly part of Lake Tahoe that I’ve come across, and I’ve lived up here since 1990. Most of the lake especially Incline, Crystal Bay is completely inaccessible to the pets. So the fact that the trail comes right down here by what we used to call Hidden Beach, the dogs love it.”

Roger Moellendorf asked Dennon if they will be changing the name of Hidden Beach because it is no longer hidden.

“The joke is to say it’s gone from Hidden Beach to Boulevard Beach. Yeah, that’s kind of the new nickname that the locals have given it. So yeah, it is quite apropos because it’s not hidden anymore.”

The way to Hidden Beach – image – Brian Bahouth
A sign on the footpath to Hidden Beach – image – Brian Bahouth
A swimmer frolics in the waters of Hidden Beach on Lake Tahoe – image – Brian Bahouth

On the day we visited, people used the path in very different ways. Bicycles, from spandex-clad carbon-fiber road bikers to kids with training wheels, mixed with all variety of people on foot, some with animals. Some stopped on the trail with no deference to cyclists or runners or seemingly anyone to take photographs. Gail Goldin is from San Francisco and said her family has spent the month of August on Lake Tahoe for more than 30 years. She bought a new bike just to ride on the trail but added that there is a need for conspicuously posted rules of the road.

“It’s a narrow path, and there are people going both ways on bikes and walking and groups talking. There hasn’t been any adequate signage to train people that you have to stay on the right hand side and you have to give the right of way to bikes that are going to pass you and that you can’t just move around and ignore the traffic because that is a concern to be knocked over or hit somebody. So I think that the there needs to be signage and hopefully that will be coming.”

Leisurely recreational biking around Incline Village can be a challenge. Roads are narrow and crowded when not covered in snow, and inevitably a rider will encounter mountains and the challenges of going up and down long, steep grades. Gail Goldin said the trail provides a rare biking opportunity.

“In Incline, that’s why it’s called Incline. It’s really difficult to bike especially if you’re a senior because everything is uphill or downhill. It’s great to have a path which is more than just Lakeshore Boulevard, which is too short for me for a bike ride, with a magnificent view. In fact this is the way I go on my paddle board or my kayak generally, and it’s a whole different bird’s eye perspective being on a bike on this nice trail.”

The metal bridge has gotten hot enough to hurt dog paws – image – Brian Bahouth
Image – Brian Bahouth, NCN
A wagon has been made available for ferrying dogs across hot metal bridges – image – Brian Bahouth

Kate Davidson was on the trail with her husband Mark, daughter and extended relatives from Seattle. Kate Davidson grew up on Lake Tahoe, and for her, riding the new trail somehow completes an essential aspect of her life with children.

“I remember loving Lakeshore drive with the bicycle path because it just afforded kids so much freedom to go back and forth, so to be here with my family now and be able to see more, greater parts of the lake is really nice, so beautiful. You can’t beat these views.”

Mark Davidson used to live in South Lake Tahoe.

“This is a great trail. It’s great to see all the different types of families and different ages, different people out enjoying the trail. It’s great access for a lot of different people, stroller access and probably even wheelchair access. So it’s a great environment and it’s great way to see Tahoe and experience everything Tahoe has to offer.”

The trail and route 28 nearly intersect near one of the trail’s bridges – image – Brian Bahouth
Nevada Division of Parks maintains the trail and made regular trash and recycling removal runs on the day we visited – image – Brian Bahouth

Standing on the trail surrounded by people obviously enjoying the close-up Tahoe experience, it’s difficult to see a downside. What could be wrong with more and more people enjoying the exquisite natural beauty of Lake Tahoe.

I recall several years ago spending an early September day snorkeling at Sand Harbor and picking up litter from the near-shore lake bottom. Beer can pull tabs from the 1970s, fishing lures, cans, oar-locks, plastic and more plastic … the highlight of the day came when in a secluded cove of Sand Harbor State Park I found an old pizza box with a used diaper stuffed inside.

Hidden Beach is no longer hidden … now, the entire shoreline between Incline Village and Sand Harbor is just a few steps away from what will be millions of visitors a year. The environmental impacts are unknown.

Wayne Penman is from Minden and said the trail is innovative in its design, but the last time he walked it, he and his daughter smelled automobile brakes where the trail and the path are close together.

“I don’t think it’s a very friendly trail because there’s too many diverse people. When you’re hiking on other secluded trails, when you come across somebody, you always say hi before you reach them. Here, people are kind of … it’s a really nice trail, but it’s too close to the road. Too much road noise. And then the first time I was here, there was way too much brake dust in the air, so that really turned me off. My daughter was visiting from San Diego last week and she asked me to walk on the trail. I thought I would try it again. She asked me, “does it still smell like breaks?” I said, ‘no, it’s better earlier.”

Sand Harbor on Lake Tahoe – image – Brian Bahouth

On the day we rode the trail, negative opinions of the experience were difficult to find. Marsha Berkbigler is a Washoe County Commissioner for District 1 and also a member of the Tahoe Regional Transportation Commission board. She and other board members were taking a tour of the trail on the day we visited. She said the goal is a pathway that covers the entire Nevada side of the lake.

“They really did a great job on it. QD construction did most of the construction on it, and the partnership that came together with state parks with Washoe County with TTD with, IVGID and all of the different groups that have come together to work on this project, of course, NDOT, RTC, all of those various traffic type groups and transportation groups. It was a partnership that came together and developed a beautiful pathway, and I’m totally convinced that it’s actually going to be just as beautiful further on because people now see this and they’re very excited about what else we can do. I think you’ll see the rest of the pathway up to Spooner Summit certainly come together quickly. Because the part that’s still here in Washoe County, Incline Village, and IVGID want to put their sewer, upgrade their sewer pipes, they want to take it out of the road and put it under the pathway. So that’s going to happen. NV Energy is going to put their power lines underground. All of that’s going to happen, so I think people are really getting excited about what can be done all the way around the lake.”

There are bike racks wherever there is lake access – image – Brian Bahouth
Bike racks abound on the trail – image – Brian Bahouth

Music credits in order of appearance

Song: Greenland
Artist: Emanicipator
Album: Safe in the Steep Cliffs
Label: Loci Records
Year: 2010
Duration: 1:25

Song: Happy Cycling
Artist: Boards of Canada
Album: Music has the right to children
Label: Warp Records
Year: 2013
Duration: 2:10

Song: Lightness of Being
Artist: Paul Avgarinos
Album: Bliss
Label: Round Sky Music
Year: 2011
Duration: 4:03

Song: Vines
Artist: Emanicipator
Album: Safe in the Steep Cliffs
Label: Loci Records
Year: 2010
Duration: 1:55