|Tahoe Adventure Company|
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Efforts to reduce pollution and restore Lake Tahoe’s world- famous water clarity remain on track, despite impacts from climate change and other factors, according to a bi-state report released Tuesday by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, part of the California Environmental Protection Agency.
Notably, the bi-state Lake Tahoe Total Maximum Daily Load Program’s 10-year Performance Report shows that pollution from fine sediment, which significantly impairs lake clarity, was reduced by nearly 600,000 pounds in 2021, or the mass equivalent of about 206 cars. This is an increase over last year’s reduction of 523,000 pounds.
Nitrogen and phosphorus, both of which contribute to algae growth, have also been reduced by thousands of pounds per year through the program, thanks to efforts of federal, state, and local agencies, as well as private landowners in the basin. The latest lake clarity level was measured at 61 feet.
“Our program’s efforts have become even more critical as Lake Tahoe faces other water clarity challenges from wildfire, smoke, and climate change,” said Mike Plaziak, Lahontan Water Board’s Executive Officer. “Going forward, restoring lake clarity will require us to continue our close coordination and implementation of best practices at every level, from how we maintain roads to how we gather data and adapt our strategies to manage climate impacts.”
Results from the bi-state report found that the partnership between local governments as well as California and Nevada transportation agencies successfully achieved 10-year goals established to reduce urban stormwater pollution and improve lake clarity.
“I’m proud of the progress made over the past decade to restore and enhance Lake Tahoe’s iconic water clarity,” said NDEP Administrator, Greg Lovato in a press release. “Looking ahead, we will continue to collaborate with the Lahontan Water Board, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and Lake Tahoe science and implementation partners to advance science-driven strategies and solutions that create a more vibrant, sustainable, climate-resilient Lake Tahoe.”
The Lake Tahoe TMDL Program is a bi-state effort between Nevada and California that was launched in 2011 to restore and enhance Lake Tahoe’s water clarity to historic levels by requiring local governments and highway departments on both sides of the lake to implement measures that help prevent clarity-harming pollutants from reaching the lake. These implementation measures aim to help Lake Tahoe meet the goal of water clarity down to at least 78 feet by the end of 2031. In time, the goal is for people to once again be able to see to depths of 100 feet.
The 2022 Performance Report highlights key accomplishments through 2021, the 10-year anniversary of the TMDL program, and showcases important projects and actions taken by Lake Tahoe partners to significantly reduce clarity-harming pollutants.
Key Findings from the 2022 Performance Report include:
— In 2021, annual clarity measured 61 feet. However, because clarity can vary considerably from year to year based on climate, in-lake processes, and other conditions, the long-term trend is considered a more valuable indictor. Over the last 20 years, lake clarity has remained relatively stable, and is no longer declining.
— Researchers found that fine particles and algal chlorophyll are the primary variables affecting Lake Tahoe’s clarity. Recent years have presented evolving and new threats to Lake Tahoe as climate change, increasing temperatures, floods, drought, and wildfires impact the lake in ways that are not fully understood.
— Wildfire continues to be a primary threat to restoring water clarity. The report takes a special look at restoration work completed for the Angora Fire, similar to what is anticipated to be accomplished for the Caldor Fire, to minimize water quality impacts, as well as studies launched to determine water quality impacts from smoke, ash and wildfire and the effectiveness of forest health and fuels reduction projects to minimize such impacts.
— Analyses show that efforts to reduce pollutants entering the lake through forestland runoff, erosion of stream beds and banks, and air deposition are on track to achieve 10-year goals. To learn more about the TMDL Program and accomplishments to improve Lake Tahoe’s water clarity, view the Lake Clarity Tracker.
To learn more about the TMDL program and accomplishments to improve Lake Tahoe’s water clarity, view the Lake Clarity Tracker.
Source: Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
George Whittell and his Castle in the Sky
By Mark McLaughlin
Summer at Lake Tahoe offers a virtually limitless bounty of activities to enjoy but do yourself a favor and schedule a visit to the quirky Thunderbird Lodge National Historic Site on Lake Tahoe’s East Shore.
Eccentric millionaire George Whittell, Jr., whose nickname was Captain, built the lodge in the 1930s. Today touring the lodge’s mix of colorful history, fascinating characters and iconic views of Big Blue is a soulful experience.
Born in San Francisco on Sept. 28, 1881, George and his twin brother Nicholas were the only children of George and Anna Whittell, who controlled a banking and real-estate conglomerate. Nick died at the age 4, leaving George, or Junior as his family called him, the sole heir to the family’s fortune.
As a rebellious teenager, Whittell lived a wild lifestyle that would distress his parents and shock their high-society friends. He had an affinity for large animals and followed the Barnum & Bailey Circus around the country. He attended colleges and universities, but never graduated. That’s not to say that George wasn’t intelligent. During a private tour, Bill Watson, chief executive and curator of the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society, told me that Whittell could speak seven languages by age 22.
When he was 22, he married a young chorus girl, but his father paid to have the union annulled. Shortly after, Whittell eloped with Josie Cunningham, a dancer from a popular British stage show. In 1919, he married Elia Pascal, a Parisian debutante. Although Pascal remained his wife for the rest of Whittell’s life, they spent little time together and had no children.
Captain was fortunate to be born into wealth, but he had a lucky streak, too. Just months before the 1929 stock market crash, he liquidated $50 million in stocks and bonds. When the Great Depression impoverished most Americans, Whittell was loaded with money. He moved his residency to Nevada to escape California’s state income taxes. Whittell financed a partnership to purchase more than 20 miles of undeveloped land on the East Shore of Lake Tahoe.
Whittell planned to construct large resorts and hotels at both Sand Harbor and Zephyr Cove. Fortunately, his vision to build the Sand Harbor Hotel and Casino, complete with 200 cottages and an aerial tram to a proposed ski resort above present-day Incline Village, Nev., was abandoned with the onset of World War II.
Capt. Whittell hired the prolific Reno architect Frederic J. DeLongchamps to design a three-story French chateau for his new home at Tahoe. The Thunderbird Lodge features intricate architectural details, hidden rooms and a 600-foot-long tunnel underneath the structure. One of the defining elements of this estate is its imaginative granite rockwork created by high-school stonemasons from Carson City’s Stewart Indian School. Italian ironworkers from the San Francisco Bay Area forged distinctive metal iconography and Scandinavian craftsmen, who built Vikingsholm Castle in Emerald Bay, fashioned the broad-beamed knotty pine interior. The mountain lodge motif sports wild animal hunting trophies on the walls as do photographs of George’s favorite pets that included lions and elephants.
Whittell hired legendary marine architect John Hacker to design a one-of-a-kind, 55-foot yacht, modeled after George’s personal DC-2 aircraft. Sleek and stylish, the “Thunderbird” was originally powered by twin V-12, 1,250-hp engines that could reach 70 mph. It was the fastest boat on Lake Tahoe
Stories abound about Whittell’s all-night poker games with celebrities such as baseball great Ty Cobb, who had a home at nearby Cave Rock. Whittell allegedly had weeklong affairs with scantily clad showgirls from Reno and Tahoe casinos. Drinking was rampant and one underground room is stained from guests smoking opium. Each summer Whittell flew in his pet lion named Bill. He brought in a polar bear one year and another time flew in an elephant named Mingo.
Over the years Whittell spent much of his time with Mae Mullhogen, his business secretary and favorite mistress. In 1954, she died in a car crash while returning to the Thunderbird after a food shopping trip. Grief-stricken, Whittell became more reclusive.
In 1958, the state of Nevada negotiated an agreement with him to establish Sand Harbor State Park, the first state park on the Nevada shoreline. Whittell resisted additional entreaties to sell his property, but the old captain was finally forced to sell his remaining acreage. Nevada’s State Legislature then banned commercial development on the land, protecting it for future generations. George Whittell, Jr. died in 1969 at age 87.
Whittell’s Castle-in-the-Sky is open for a variety of tours and programs, by both land and water. | thunderbirdtahoe.org
When Brooks McMullin and Cortney Knudson brought their idea of creating a community bike park before the Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District, they never would’ve imagined how it would grow and evolve over the next decade.
“Brooks and I had been in Sun Valley [Idaho] and we were like, ‘Wow, they just got a pump track. Why don’t we have one?’” Knudson recalled.
Twelve years after the first phone call to TDRPD was made on July 3, 2010, the park is a long way from its humble beginning as a pump track, with features for every ability level and encompassing 12 acres off Joerger Drive. The third and final phase was recently completed — just in time to kick off the park’s 2022 season.
“The permitted plan for the 12 acres is now built out, but the bike park is not finished,” Knudson said.
“The bike park will never be finished. It’s like a ski area. Things get weathered over time and fall apart, and you have to fine tune and revamp and re-edit lines.”
Throughout the years, Truckee Bike Park has gained a far-reaching reputation not only for its varied terrain, but also for its meticulous upkeep.
“We’ve been told that this is the only park with a heartbeat,” Knudson said. “People come here from all over. It’s beautifully maintained. It’s always in great shape. A lot of places will build a park and then they get abandoned … when you go through and you visit [other] parks, they will never be in the beautified shape that this is.”
As riders themselves, Knudson and McMullin are constantly editing the terrain and thinking about what can be better or changed.
With its beating-heart energy, the Truckee Bike Park has become a living thing, breathing life into those hitting the dirt to shred brown pow. The brains behind the life force are Knudson, McMullin, and Olympic Valley-based Biking for a Better World, of which McMullin is executive director. All funding for the Truckee Bike Park is raised through this 501(c)(3) nonprofit, in partnership with the TDRPD, which holds the lease, and the Truckee Airport and Sanitary districts, both of which provided the land.
“It started a passion project 12 years ago for both of us, not knowing where we were going with it and the capabilities of how far we could take it,” Knudson said.
The park has evolved into much more than the pump track it began with. With 50,000 riders rolling through annually — a number estimated to have grown to over 70,000 since the onset of the pandemic — the park attracts people far and wide, all ages, all walks of life, who share a common love of two wheels. During summer, it’s not unusual for as many as 400 people to hit the dirt on a given day.
Matt Medeiros is one of those. He has been hitting bike parks across the U.S. and Canada with his 13-year-old competitive rider son, Christian, for the past four years. But it’s the Truckee Bike Park that always stands out.
“Every time we come here, there’s something new here and it’s just amazing … you can have so much progression here,” said Medeiros, adding that a lot of the parks he’s been to are more mellow and tend to dumb down their lines. “The fact that you can’t get bored here because … these little kids are gonna to start on these little lines, and then they’re gonna grow up and become teenagers and they’re gonna go to the middle lines, maybe even the pro lines. But the pro lines are so good that they’re gonna continue to want to come back here, and that’s one of the reasons why we really love this place.”
For 14-year-old Wyatt Sigur of Santa Cruz, it’s all about the varied terrain that the Truckee Bike Park offers.
“It has, like, the biggest variety of jumps … It has dirt jumps and mountain bike jumps and technical trails and flowy trails. And just how well the jumps are built is just really amazing,” he said. “I’ve been to some other [bike parks] in California and this one, definitely is, like, one of the best out of all of them.”
Witnessing the excitement and progression of some of the younger rides is one of the most rewarding things about the park for McMullin, especially in the more aggressive recently completed section.
“Our new slope line is unreal. It is probably best line at the park. It is so friendly. The slope zone is like no other,” he said. “We have little groms (biker lingo for the younger riders) working on the line, I hear them say, ‘I got to hit the whale tail!’”
McMullin said many features at the park are foreign to a lot of riders, particularly with the groms’ progression to new lines like Stay Another Week and Runway 2-6. “Our LittleBIG slope event was so spectacular,” he said of the annual Little Big Bike Festival and Skills Clinic that was held in June. “Seeing all the progression and where is this happening in the U.S. — nowhere but Truckee, CA!”
While its terrain challenges riders, the park itself has faced its own obstacles when it comes to funding. Built through private donations, grants, and fundraising, “Truckee Bike Park needs to continue donations to keep the park what it is currently,” Knudson said.
With an annual budget ranging up to $150,000, each spring it requires around $120,000 just to get the park up and running, especially following the harsh conditions of Tahoe winters. Year-round, Knudson and McMullin can easily spend upwards of 25 to 30 hours a week working on their labor of love — on top of their full-time day jobs.
“Once the season ramps up, when we start shovels on ground, it’s every day, 50 to 60 hours a week,” McMullin said. A dozen years into their volunteer effort, he and Knudson only recently started drawing minimal salaries for their work, but it’s not even enough to cover rent.
The pair appeal to guests to give back to the park, which draws people to the area, and ultimately benefits the surrounding area.
“Restaurants, bike shops, the grocery stores, the gas stations … people are coming from all over,” said McMullin, noting that the tourist dollars brought in by the park are being put back into the community.
Knudson says that on weekends, eight out of 10 park visitors are from out of town. She sees the park as a melting pot where folks can come together with a shared common interest.
In the end, it’s about having fun. Over the years, Knudson and McMullin have seen great growth in the number of families using the park together, with a noted increase in moms deciding to be part of the action and getting on bikes to ride along with their kids.
“The park here is for everyone. It’s for every financial level, it’s for every skill level,” Knudson said. “It doesn’t matter your religion, your skin, your skill, or what’s in your pocket because it all comes down to two wheels.”
Juliana Demarest is a Jersey girl with ink in her blood. She fell in love with print journalism at a young age in the '80s when her Uncle Tony would take her to "work" at his weekly paper. In 1997, she co-founded a weekly newspaper in North Jersey. One day, she went to photograph a local farmer for a news story. She ended up marrying him and leaving journalism to become a farmer's wife. In 2010, they packed up their two children and headed to Truckee in pursuit of the outdoor life. She didn't realize just how much she missed journalism until she joined Moonshine in 2018 after taking time off to be mom. Connect with Juliana firstname.lastname@example.org