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Recreation & Public Access

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The Lake Tahoe Basin is a unique environment that offers an abundance of recreation opportunities for residents and visitors alike. Lake Tahoe’s crystal blue waters, juxtaposed with snow-capped mountains offering an abundance of open space, draw millions of visitors from all over the world to experience its grandeur.

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Recreation & Public Access Program Information. Please click images for Project details.

The Conservancy not only undertakes its own projects and land acquisitions, but also works with a wide range of local government and not-for-profit partners in planning and implementing projects through its grants program. Geared towards improving regionally significant recreation opportunities and experiences in California, the Conservancy’s Public Access and Recreation Program first adopted its Program Guidelines in December 1986. These guidelines communicate the objectives and priorities of the Conservancy’s Public Access and Recreation Program, describe the application and funding process for planning, site improvement, and land acquisition grants.

In determining project priorities for implementation, the agency considers how best to accomplish the Public Access and Recreation Program’s objectives of:

  • Increasing and enhancing significant regional public access and recreational opportunities consistent with natural resource preservation
  • Providing a range of public access opportunities to locations with regionally significant lakefront, riverfront, cultural/historical and natural characteristics
  • Increasing regional waterborne and non-motorized transportation and recreation opportunities
  • Supporting environmental education, interpretation, and wayfinding efforts that promote stewardship, provide information, and lessen confusion for recreationists

Program objectives can be achieved by acquiring lands for public recreation access and facilities, providing new elements of Regional trail networks that connect to recreation facilities; expanding the capacity of, or modernizing, existing public recreation sites; and adapting heavily-used areas to best accommodate public use.

Program Elements

New and Enhanced Public Access Opportunities

Providing public access to places that were previously in private ownership expands opportunities for recreationists. In addition, improvements to aging infrastructure to better meet current public expectations for recreation sites and facilities can revitalize public use at existing areas. Communities such as Kings Beach, Tahoe City, and South Lake Tahoe are undergoing transformation, both environmentally and socially, as existing public lakefront locations are reshaped with amenities for public gathering and events.

Variety of Opportunities to Access Lake Tahoe

Despite its popularity as a recreational destination, public access to Lake Tahoe’s shoreline has historically been limited by the number of private lakefront developments. In fact, in 1971 only 13.5 miles of Lake Tahoe’s 72 miles of shoreline were in public ownership. That figure has more than doubled to 34 miles, including numerous Conservancy (and Conservancy-funded) lakefront land acquisitions that converted former private developments to public beaches. Along with the establishment of access points to these beaches at regular intervals, the Conservancy helps to ensure a lasting legacy of public shoreline in the State of California.

Increased Waterborne and Non-Motorized Transportation Opportunities

Aiding the planning and construction or enhancement of the Region’s hiking and biking trail networks through the funding of design, right-of-way acquisition, and project development are core program elements. These important projects connect existing trails to create user-friendly networks, while at the same time providing a fun, non-motorized alternative for accessing desired destinations such as beaches, trailheads, and neighborhoods. Conservancy-funded projects also have constructed and improved trailheads to the backcountry, including key access points to the Tahoe Rim Trail, a continuous 150-mile hiking and equestrian trail encircling the Tahoe Basin.

Promoting Stewardship, Providing Information, and Assisting Recreationists

Public education about the unique character of the Lake Tahoe Basin and the preservation of its special environment remains a high priority for the Conservancy. Projects foster stewardship by increasing understanding of the need to preserve and protect the lake and its environs. While the focus of educational, orientation, and interpretive programs varies by site – delivering informational, directional, geological, historical, or environmental content where appropriate – the message remains the same: appreciate the fragile environment and enjoy its endowments responsibly.

With the Conservancy’s support, two South Shore facilities provide visitor information: one in the central tourist hub near the California/Nevada state line, and the second at the entry point to the Basin. One key benefit of such centers is a reduction in vehicular traffic. When visitors are oriented and directed to facilities that meet their needs, they don’t have to drive around fruitlessly, contributing to the area’s traffic congestion and related air pollution.

Summary of Accomplishments

Since its inception in 1986, the Conservancy has authorized expenditures totaling over $22 million for acquisitions and over $32 million for planning and site improvements through the Public Access and Recreation Program.

These authorized expenditures have contributed to the following accomplishments:

  • Planning or completion of over 45 miles of Class 1 bike paths, Class II bike lanes, hiking, equestrian, and cross-country ski trails
  • Acquisition of, and enhanced beachfront amenities at, over 1.75 miles of shoreline for public enjoyment and boat launching
  • Construction of four public restroom facilities
  • Construction of three hiking and equestrian trailhead facilities
  • Creation of two new visitor/interpretive centers
  • Installation of interpretive and directional panels at multiple recreation sites