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Tahoe Daily Tribune: State of the Lake report shows extreme highs and lows of the basin, 2023 on track to follow in historic data


State of the Lake report shows extreme highs and lows of the basin, 2023 on track to follow in historic data

TAHOE CITY, Calif.— The 2023 Tahoe State of the Lake report was released for public viewing, and Tahoe Environmental Research Center Director Geoffrey Schladow was able to present the findings at the Granlibakken Thursday, July 20. 

The report informs non-scientists about the important factors impacting the health of the basin, and provides the scientific details for preservation and management within Lake Tahoe. 

The 2023 report summarizes data collected during 2022 in the context of the long-term record of research done in Lake Tahoe. Researchers at UC Davis have been continuously monitoring the lake since 1968.

Although the report covers the data of 2022, Schladow started off the presentation by diving into data from 2023, which showed that Lake Tahoe has experienced some extreme weather events. 

“July Fourth this year was a special day,” said Schladow. “Nothing to celebrate. Fourth of July 2023 was the hottest day on Earth in a hundred-thousand years. It’s hard to get your head around that.” 

Schladow noted that temperatures are rising all around the world. 

“The climate change doesn’t just mean it’s getting warmer,” said Schladow. “These are extreme temperatures. Many of you who live up here know that we just had an extreme event. It was called winter.” 

The epic winter of 2022-23 saw the greatest amount of snow water content in the Sierra Nevadas since satellite record began in 2000. 

The northern Sierra was at 271% of its normal snowpack, the central Sierra was at 284%, and the southern Sierra was at 439% its normal pack. 

“That’s a lot of snow,” said Schladow. 

As a result, the lake level increased by over 6 feet, raising the question of what next season will bring. 

The 2022 data that was presented showed that 2022 was arguably the most extreme year for Lake Tahoe, but not from a climate perspective. 

“In other ways, it was probably the most extreme and most divergent year I’ve experienced,” said Schladow. 

Interestingly, the lake was able to deeply mix, or “turnover” in 2022, largely due to the air temperature. Nov. 2022 was on record as the third coldest month in 110 years, and Dec. 2022 was well below the long term average. 

Schawlow explained that as the warmer water on the surface cools, it travels to the bottom of the lake, where colder water already exists, causing mixing. 

This winter, the water went all the way down to the bottom of the lake, which Schladow noted was a rare occurrence. 

“This process of mixing is critically important,” said Schladow. “This is the only way the bottom of the lake gets oxygen. If this didn’t happen, the oxygen would be zero, fish couldn’t live down there, there’d be weird chemistry happening in the sediments, nutrients would be released. That would be terrible.” 

Other topics that Schladow covered during his presentation of the State of the Lake report included the increasing number of microplastics and invasive species in the lake, as well as the polar opposite of what 2023 has been so far: a dry summer and fall. 

“Remember, last year, we were in the midst of a drought,” said Schladow. “Water levels were low.” 

As a result of low water levels and higher temperatures, the growth of algae blooms around the basin occurred. 

Multiple agencies and organizations help fund the State of the Lake report, including the California Tahoe Conservancy, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, and the Parasol Tahoe Community Foundation, among many others. 

The report is available to be in read in full online, and can be downloaded at

Tahoe Daily Tribune: Report: Pollution from sediment in Lake Tahoe reduced by 600k pounds in 2021

Tahoe Daily Tribune: Report: Pollution from sediment in Lake Tahoe reduced by 600k pounds in 2021


Report: Pollution from sediment in Lake Tahoe reduced by 600k pounds in 2021

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

Tahoe Weekly: George Whittell and his Castle in the Sky

Tahoe Weekly: George Whittell and his Castle in the Sky


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.

Thunderbird estate
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. |

Moonshine Ink: Mission Accomplished

Moonshine Ink: Mission Accomplished


Mission Accomplished




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

East Bay Times: Bear canisters now mandatory at popular Tahoe backpacking area

East Bay Times: Bear canisters now mandatory at popular Tahoe backpacking area

Bear canisters now mandatory at popular Tahoe backpacking area Bay Area News Group July 14, 2022 Starting Monday, campers in California’s Desolation Wilderness will be required to store food, trash and all scented items in a bearproof canister. In announcing the new regulation, the U.S. Forest Service cited bears’ increasing aggression in their search for food in the wilderness south of Lake Tahoe. One common method of keeping food out of bears’ reach — putting it in a bag and using a rope to fling it over a tree branch — has become less effective, as the animals have learned to retrieve the bags. The Forest Service said that in recent years as many as 10 parties a night have lost their food to bears in the Desolation Wilderness. The regulation specifies a hard-sided container designed to be bearproof, such as the Bear Vault and Bearikade brands sold in outdoor recreation stores for about $80. The Placerville Ranger Station in Camino, where backpackers can pick up their Desolation Wilderness permits, rents approved canisters for a small fee. The announcement said violators face a $50 citation — though the official Forest Service order specifies a fine of “not more than $5,000.” Bear canisters are also required for backpackers in all of Yosemite and Lassen Volcanic national parks and parts of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks and Inyo, Sierra and Humboldt-Toiyabe national forests.

Sierra Sun: Non-motorized watercraft can spread invasive species into Lake Tahoe

Sierra Sun: Non-motorized watercraft can spread invasive species into Lake Tahoe

Non-motorized watercraft can spread invasive species into Lake Tahoe Submitted to the Sierra Sun May 27, 2022 As summer in the Tahoe Basin begins to ramp up, boating does as well. Most boaters know their vessel needs to be inspected at a watercraft inspection station prior to launching. The Clean, Drain, and Dry protocol is universally seen and understood throughout the region. The process ensures that no new aquatic invasive species are introduced to the lake — and none have since inspections began in 2008. But, what about kayaks, paddle boards, sailboats, rafts, or even electric foil boards (Efoils) – do they need an inspection? Well, here is any easy guide to see if you need to come by a watercraft inspection station for a free, non-motorized inspection. NON-TRAILERED AND NON-MOTORIZED Non-trailered, non-motorized watercraft are not required to have an inspection but “may be subject to inspection prior to entering the waters of the Lake Tahoe region if determined necessary” (TRPA Code 63.4.2) depending on the posed risk. In order to assess risk, be prepared to answer some questions about your boating history at state parks, kiosks, launching areas and public beaches. If you are coming from a water body that is deemed high-risk for the spread of invasive species, you will be directed to an inspection station to get a free inspection and possible decontamination. For example, if you are coming from Lake Mead or Havasu, a free inspection and decontamination would help alleviate the risk of introducing Quagga or Zebra mussels into regional waters. For pristine waters that have no invasive species, such as Echo Lakes, Angora, and Fallen Leaf lakes, even Lake Tahoe is considered a threat from the Eurasian watermilfoil, curlyleaf pondweed, and Asian clams currently found there. Decontaminations prior to using non-motorized watercraft in pristine waters help keep them pristine, and, as always, are prioritized and free at watercraft inspection stations. If your non-motorized watercraft is covered in water or mud, or is just dirty, you may be asked by recreation officials to go to an inspection station and get a decontamination. If the watercraft is not coming from a high-risk waterbody and is completely Cleaned, Drained and Dry, you can launch wherever you like in Lake Tahoe. TRAILERED NON-MOTORIZED If your watercraft is large enough that it needs to be on a trailer, then it will need to be inspected. This does not apply to basic utility trailers. After the inspection, watercraft will get a free non-motorized Tahoe In & Out sticker. OTHER WATERCRAFT The official code states, all motorized watercraft need an inspection. Does your Efoil or electric surfboard have an electric or gas-powered motor? If so, then it needs to go to an inspection station. Luckily, inspections are free for most electric motors, so you won’t need to pay for the inspection. BECOME A TAHOE KEEPER Tahoe Keepers are people who actively use a non-motorized watercraft in the Tahoe Basin, have pledged their stewardship of the Tahoe Region and have shown their knowledge of Clean, Drain and Dry procedures. Tahoe Keepers are paddling stewards who protect the region’s waters and lead by example. To become a Tahoe Keeper, visit, take the quiz and then you will receive your decal and certificate in the mail. Remember, the best way to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species is to Clean, Drain and Dry all watercraft when leaving or entering another water body. Lake Tahoe’s regional waters remain crystal clear for a reason – we all work diligently to preserve the beauty and ecology of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Non-motorized boaters are welcome to stop by the inspection stations any time for free inspections to make sure they have no delays at the launching areas. For a list of inspection stations or to book an appointment for a motorized mandatory inspection, please visit The Lake Tahoe Aquatic Invasive Species Program is implemented by 40 public and private partner organizations, including federal, state, and local jurisdictions, research partners, public utility districts, and private marinas. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the Tahoe Resource Conservation District lead the program in collaboration with the public and private partners. The program’s mission is to prevent, detect, and control aquatic invasive species in the Region so that future generations can enjoy Lake Tahoe. For additional information, contact Source: Lake Tahoe Aquatic Invasive Species Program

Tahoe Quarterly: George Whittell, Jr.: The Accidental Conservationist

Tahoe Quarterly: George Whittell, Jr.: The Accidental Conservationist

GEORGE WHITTELL, JR.: THE ACCIDENTAL CONSERVATIONIST Matthew Renda In Best of Tahoe 2016 Through the wafts of cigarette smoke, the clinks of whiskey glasses and the inebriated squeals of a few straggling showgirls regularly employed at the Cal-Neva, it becomes apparent that Ty Cobb has a full house, while Howard Hughes leans on his two of a kind—both of which prove futile as George Whittell Jr., patriarch of the Thunderbird Lodge, lays down his straight flush in graceful triumph. This poker game featuring some of Lake Tahoe’s more notable denizens may be ripped from history, but like most of the anecdotes that comprise the famed region’s lore, it is susceptible to the storyteller’s natural tendency toward embellishment. TALL TALES Lake Tahoe, as a playground for the affluent for more than a century, has hosted more than its fair share of decadence. However, Whittell arguably sits atop Tahoe’s immense Bacchanalian heap, king of Revelry Mountain. An eccentric playboy with the good fortune to be born into money, Whittell never worked a day in his life, ran away with the circus instead of going to university, married a succession of dancers and showgirls, sped around in his fleet of luxury Duesenbergs with a lion riding shotgun, and bought and preserved nearly the entire Nevada portion of Lake Tahoe. However, Bill Watson, executive director and curator of Thunderbird Lake Tahoe, which has turned Whittell’s spacious mansion into a museum, points out that the society pages of newspapers at the time, which provide the foundation of the lore surrounding Whittell, were more than a little prone to exaggeration. “The wealthy of that time liked to see scandalous stories printed about themselves à la The Great Gatsby,” Watson says. “So, as a result there were exaggerated tales of Mr. Whittell’s exploits, some of which happened, most of which did not.” Regardless, Watson is correct in asserting that Whittell’s life was not all tawdry intrigue, ceaseless orgies and torrid love affairs. Whittell was made a Knight of the Order of Leopold by the King of Belgium for his distinguished service as an ambulance driver in World War I, where he served alongside Ernest Hemingway. Whittell further attempted to sign up as a volunteer in the army on December 8, 1942, at the ripe old age of 60 (he was denied, much to his chagrin). Upon his death, he left a large share of his fortune to the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He was fluent in seven languages, a gracious host and a major if unwitting conservationist. The picture of Whittell is complicated—gilded by the excesses of his age, worn by the accusations of the more staid members of the San Francisco upper crust. His reputed selfishness is contradicted by his sacrifices and service for his country. His vaunted appetite for high society is contrasted with a propensity to be reclusive and solitary. All of this complication is further muddled by the exaggerations unique to the tabloid coverage of his exploits and historians’ own tendency to print the legend in lieu of the facts. THE MAN VERSUS THE MYTH Whittell was born in 1882, scion of one of San Francisco’s wealthiest families. His father, George Whittell Sr., made his money in real estate during the Gold Rush and was one of the founders of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. The Whittells maintained a respectable house across the street from Charles Crocker and established a sprawling estate in Woodside, California, a few miles south of the city. Whittell’s twin brother, Nick, died at age four, leaving George Jr. as the sole heir of his family’s fortune. Junior did not inherit his father’s conservative predilections; instead, he ran away with the Barnum & Bailey Circus as it toured the country at a time when most of his contemporaries were chasing university degrees. In 1903, the young tycoon met and married Florence Boyere, a young dancer. The marriage embarrassed his parents; his father paid an enormous sum to have it annulled and dispatched $25,000 to Boyere for her troubles. Uncowed, Whittell married yet another woman of the spotlight, Josie Cunningham, a year later. Their marriage did not prove durable. They divorced in two years. Whittell then bounced from affair to affair. He is reputed to have said: “When men stop boozing, womanizing and gambling, the bloom is off the rose.” But it wasn’t all floozies and fun. Whittell proved an adroit manager of the family fortune after his father died in 1922. In 1929, only months before the Great Stock Market Crash, Whittell liquidated more than $50 million worth of stock—a move that saved his family’s enormous fortune. By then, he had married a woman he met while serving meritoriously in World War I, a French debutante named Elia Pascal. Pascal differed from the showgirls of his youth. She, like Whittell, came from wealth, as her parents owned a large estate in France’s picturesque Loire Valley. The marriage was durable, but elastic. Pascal was with Whittell at his Woodside deathbed in 1969 when he died of melanoma at the age of 87, but the couple spent most of their marriage in separate countries, as Pascal preferred to reside in Paris while Whittell is rumored to never have quite rid himself of his affinity for showgirls. WHITTELL’S THUNDERBIRD Whittell originally absconded to Nevada around 1930 because its reputation as a tax haven accommodated his need to protect his vast inheritance from the intrusive hands of the state of California. He began real estate hunting in the early 1930s, as most of the American population was in the initial throes of the Great Depression. Tahoe as a destination for the wealthy was in ascendancy, so Whittell zeroed in on The Lake’s East Shore, where the trees had all been cut and conveyed down to the mine shafts of the Comstock Lode in Virginia City. The tycoon purchased a wide swath of land, including 45,000 acres and more than 20 miles of Lake Tahoe’s inimitable shoreline. The land closest to the shore cost about $6 an acre, while land higher up ran a meager $3 an acre. The construction of the house, replete with its secret passageways and outlying buildings, cost about $300,000 all told—a fair chunk in the ’30s; Whittell took out a building permit in 1935 for $5.50. Whittell’s original intention was to augment his own estate with large-scale development, with plans for large casino and hotel resorts in Zephyr Cove and Sand Harbor. But after his remote stone mansion was completed in 1936 and he moved in around 1937, his appetite for the development vanished. “One can imagine that George Whittell looked over the pristine landscape from his home and torpedoed his own development plans,” Watson says. Whether by land or by sea, the Thunderbird Lodge offers the beholder an impressive sight. Perched on a rocky promontory formerly known as Observation Point, the three-story Tudor Revival stone manse, designed by Reno architect Frederick De Longchamps, resembles a combination of a gallant French chateau and a fortress aimed at preventing an invasion from Tahoe’s West Shore. Of course, a fortress it was not, though Whittell, particularly in his latter years, did retire to the mansion and its vast surrounding estate as a means of keeping the outside world at bay. A unique feature of the Thunderbird Lodge is its custom-made elephant pen. It was constructed to house Mingo, Whittell’s 600-pound pet Sumatran elephant, a memento of his youth spent with the circus. Watson has seen pictures of Whittell with the elephant at the Lake Tahoe estate. Rumors persist that Whittell also allowed his pet lion, Bill, to roam the grounds at Thunderbird Lodge, frightening off a few hapless trespassers over the years, but these tales have grown rather tall, Watson says. “There’s a picture of him driving with a lion in the front seat of his Duesenberg and suddenly that story becomes he has lions and tigers up here at the Thunderbird,” Watson says. Much of the lore surrounding Whittell’s time in Tahoe is steeped more in myth than truth, Watson says. The legendary parties at Thunderbird certainly occurred, but they were rare. While Whittell hosted friends and family, the mansion was built in a manner that discouraged overnight visitors. Nevertheless, the stories about Whittell using a dungeon in the basement for guests who over-imbibed certainly persist. But more often, particularly as Whittell grew older, he was alone at Thunderbird. For every night he invited baseball legend Ty Cobb and fellow eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes over for poker, there stretched a longer duration where he consorted with nobody but his exotic pets or a favored mistress. From 1937 to 1968, Whittell repaired to his Lake Tahoe retreat every summer. During this period, Whittell commissioned the construction of what some deem the world’s most recognizable speedboat. The Thunderbird Yacht is a 55-foot wooden boat capable of hitting 60 knots due to the twin V-12 550 horsepower Kermath engines. It is under repair now, but it still roams the crystalline surface of Lake Tahoe, its aggressive engines announcing its presence in no uncertain terms. To house the boat, the reclusive millionaire ordered the construction of a boathouse the size of a basketball court blasted out of the granite and a 600-foot tunnel that connected it to the main house. PRESERVING THE EAST SHORE Whittell died in 1969, but prior to his death, he sold off pieces of his vast estate to Nevada State Parks and other management agencies. At the time of his death, he still owned the house and about 10,000 acres of surrounding property, which was purchased by Wall Street maven Jack Dreyfus, then later sold with most of the estate to the U.S. Forest Service. In 2009, the Thunderbird Preservation Society, of which Bill Watson serves as executive director, assumed ownership of the building and approximately 140 acres of surrounding land. The nonprofit has transformed the mansion into a museum that pays homage not only to the life of its eccentric former owner, but to Lake Tahoe’s rich and illustrious history in general. A popular tourist attraction, the Thunderbird Preservation Society offers guided tours by foot, by boat or by kayak Tuesday through Saturday, from mid-May to mid-October. Reservations are required for all tours. For more information, call 1-800-GO-TAHOE or click here. In the meantime, remember that while Whittell’s legacy is bound up inextricably with his appetites, his whimsies, his parties, his hobnobbing with the faded luminaries of a bygone era, his pets and his reclusive eccentricities, his true legacy lies in the unspoiled nature of Lake Tahoe’s nearly development-free East Shore. While the other three shores are dotted with casinos, ski resorts, alpine cabins, restaurants and development, Whittell’s decision to indulge his need for solitude rather than line his pocketbook means ensuing generations are free to enjoy an unspoiled version of Lake Tahoe. A more natural Lake Tahoe, courtesy of Whittell. Matthew Renda is a Santa Cruz–based writer.

Reno Gazette Journal: Declines in Lake Tahoe's clarity have been halted; scientists ponder what's next

Reno Gazette Journal: Declines in Lake Tahoe's clarity have been halted; scientists ponder what's next

Declines in Lake Tahoe's clarity have been halted; scientists ponder what's next Amy Alonzo July 16, 2022 Declines in Lake Tahoe’s overall clarity have largely plateaued, according to recent measurements. And that’s a win, for some Tahoe scientists. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Alan Heyvaert, associate research professor at Reno’s Desert Research Institute. “The fact that we arrested the decline in clarity – that’s amazing that we’ve done that.” But work to restore the lake’s clarity to levels not seen in more than 50 years is moving slowly. Measurements show two diverging trends: Summer clarity continues to decline at just under 7.5 inches per year, while winter clarity is generally holding steady. Last year, average clarity in the lake measured just 61 feet, according studies by the University of California, Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center and the Tahoe Science Advisory Council. The number marks a drastic decrease in clarity from when levels first were measured in 1968, when average clarity was 102.4 feet. It has Tahoe scientists scratching their heads at what the next steps are to reverse decades of declining clarity. More development, more runoff Fine particles and tiny algae are responsible for up to 70 percent of the loss of clarity in Tahoe. The particles come from a variety of sources including road runoff, atmospheric dust and wildfire smoke deposits. “They (fine particles) are so small they don’t actually sink very fast. They can stay suspended in the water column for a long time, and that’s what causes the decline in clarity,” according to Joanna Blaszczak, assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. The decline in Tahoe’s clarity dates back to a 1960s building boom in the basin. In 1960, the first-ever-televised winter Olympics were held at Palisades Tahoe – then known as Squaw Valley – on the north shore of the lake. That same year, developers on the east shore subdivided a parcel in the new town of Incline Village into 1,700 lots. By 1968, more than 3,000 houses had been built in Incline Village. In 1961, Homewood Ski Area on the west shore was developed. Heavenly Valley, which opened in 1955, expanded its resort into Nevada in 1968. And for years, Tahoe’s wastewater was channeled into the lake. The mantra during the 1950s and '60s was “dilution is the solution to pollution,” according to Heyvaert. But people started to notice impacts on the lake, and by the mid-1970s, wastewater treatment facilities had been constructed in the basin. “Without that, we wouldn’t even be talking about restoring the lake at this point," Heyvaert said. "That prevented a catastrophe.” As steps were taken to limit wastewater impacts on Tahoe, population continued to grow around the lake. Between 1960 and 1980, Tahoe’s population grew from 10,000 people to 50,000. Now, in addition to a growing year-round Tahoe community, about 15 million people visit the lake annually. The increases in development and population led to more urban pollution and runoff. It became clear by the 1990s that more concerted efforts were needed, Heyvaert said. A long road to recovery In 2011, a plan requiring local governments and highway departments to limit clarity-harming pollutants that wash into the lake was implemented. The goal: Restore Tahoe’s clarity to 97.4 feet, a level that hasn’t been seen since 1970. But the lake is slow to change, Hayvaert said. It hasn’t recovered from a deluge of fine particles that flowed into it during heavy storms and floods in 2017. That year marked the worst clarity ever recorded at Tahoe. The average annual clarity level in 2017 was 59.7 feet, a 9.5-foot decrease from 2016. Prior to that, the worst clarity was measured in 1997, also a flood year, when visibility was only 64.1 feet. Fine particles in the streams that feed Tahoe increased four-fold during in 2017 and have remained elevated since then, despite less water flowing into Tahoe with drought conditions. “It’s like a battleship instead of speedboat. It doesn’t change direction quickly,” Heyvaert said of Lake Tahoe. The elevation in fine particles despite less runoff is counter to what scientists think should be happening, according to University of Nevada, Reno associate professor Sudeep Chandra. With less water flowing into the lake, less particles should be transported into it, leading to some improvements in clarity. Despite the mystery of why summer clarity is still decreasing, Heyvaert thinks the glass is half full. “The jury is still out on whether we are on pace to hit the clarity target in 2076, but there is progress in simply having arrested the long-term decline in lake clarity at this point,” he said. “Now we have a more difficult job of ultimately restoring the clarity to historic conditions, which means reversing that trend.” Amy Alonzo covers the outdoors, recreation and environment for Nevada and Lake Tahoe. Reach her at Here's how you can support ongoing coverage and local journalism.

Traveller: Lake Tahoe, USA: Diving into the world's second-largest alpine lake

Lake Tahoe, USA: Diving into the world's second-largest alpine lake Julie Miller January 30, 2015 The aim of stand up paddle boarding, as a general rule, is not to get wet. But the gin-clear abyss of Lake Tahoe is an irresistible lure, and I need a closer view . I plunge into the blue where shafts of sunlight dance like lightning bolts, illuminating darting fish, boulders on the sandy floor and my own toes, corpse-white in the frigid depths. It's said that the clarity of the world's second-largest alpine lake has decreased since the 1960s from 30 to 23 metres; but to my waterlogged eyes, it's still as described by Mark Twain in 1872: "not merely transparent, but dazzlingly, brilliantly so." When the young humorist first laid eyes on the high alpine lake that straddles the border of California and Nevada, he declared it "the fairest picture the whole earth affords". It is, indeed, a landscape of superlatives – impossible shades of blue, cradled between the tiara-topped Sierra Nevada mountains, with inviting sandy beaches and sheer banks swathed in a carpet of pine. As bewitching as the lake is, however, it's what surrounds it that attracts most Australian visitors: sky-piercing mountains, and bucketloads of snow during the northern winter. A scenic 3½-hour drive from San Francisco or just 90 minutes from Reno, Tahoe's many ski resorts offer some of the best downhill skiing and snowboarding in the west. Peak season at Tahoe, however, is summer. As an adventure destination, it's the total package, with hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and every imaginable water sport. The days are sunny and temperate, the nights cool enough for sleep and there's an air of celebration in the resorts, with special events and festivals for added value. Our first taste of Tahoe is in the raucous northern gateway of Truckee, an historic railway and timber town that has retained its gritty edge. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the main street has the ambience of a Hollywood western, with original wooden facades, honky-tonk dives and the atmospheric Truckee Hotel, its history resonant in period furniture, sloping creaky floor and chandeliers that tinkle as resident ghosts flit by. We have more al fresco activities on the agenda, exploring the lake. We gawk at luxurious homes, vestiges of Hollywood's assault on Tahoe in the 1960s ; then indulge in some contemporary glamour at the Hyatt Regency beach club, a sea of umbrellas and sun beds on a sandy white carpet, paddle the mirrored coves in kayaks, admiring the historic estates, the original log summer homes from the 19th century tucked behind ponderosa pines. SEE+DO Stand Up Paddle Board rental with Tahoe Adventure Company costs $US30 an hour, $US70 half day.

SF Gate: Lake Tahoe’s low season high time for recreation

Lake Tahoe’s low season high time for recreation Alec Scott October 29, 2014 “The fall up here? It’s a time when we watch extreme snowboarding videos and get psyched for the winter to come.” So says a guy who’s seated near me at dinner on a dock stretching out into Lake Tahoe from its less-visited west shore. He’s a precision carpenter from out East who’s worked on many high-end homes around the lake and in the villages that have grown up near its ski resorts. I’m a skier and understand that sense of eagerness for the season to get under way. But there's something to being up here now, with fewer folks, between its big-box-office summers and winters — the “shoulder season.” The roadside altitude markers jump up in increments of a thousand feet fairly quickly to top 6,000 as one enters Placer County, and my ears periodically pop. The efforts of engineers to make these high peaks passable draw attention to themselves: a tunnel driven with rudimentary tools through igneous rock, road switchbacks carved up steep slopes. Case in point: the curved Donner Memorial Bridge or Rainbow Bridge, perching precariously over a chasm on Donner Pass Road, part of the old U.S. Highway 40. Completed in 1929, it was designed by Norman Raab, the man whose most famous spans support the Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur. A bear recently got trapped in the arch under the bridge and needed help to get down. Mountain views Near where I’m staying, in the guest rooms at the West Shore Cafe, there are bays on which multicolored powerboats and small yachts bob up and down, with the mountains of the Carson Range in the distance. Tahoe reminds me of Alpine lakes near the border of Italy and Switzerland. But the landscape is less manicured. Long-gone glaciers have tossed van-size boulders here and there as if they were so many dice; even after logging, second-growth Jeffrey pines can reach almost 200 feet, generally taller than the conifers near Lake Como, with rough, red bark. At this time of year, the pines drop sharp brown needles and the odd big cone down from great heights — as I discovered on my first real hike, getting bonked and pricked, walking through a pine forest, on the way up to Brockway Summit East. The treeline ends just before the rocky top, and most of the lake is visible from here. The next couple of days pass in a feverish round of activities — a somewhat frantic effort to make up for a sedentary line of work. I bike from the village at Squaw Valley along the Truckee River, Tahoe’s sole outlet, to Tahoe City. It seems somehow appropriate that one of the first offerings at the newly opened art-house cinema here is a Wes Anderson festival — the alpine kitsch near Tahoe seems right out of his “Grand Budapest Hotel” or “Moonrise Kingdom.” Still, no amount of quaint outdoor art can undermine the grandeur of the setting. Fall color In the Southwest Bay, a steep hiking trail mounts up to Eagle Falls, dramatic even with minimal water this time of year. The trembling aspens have turned yellow; the stairs hewn into the mountainside again speak, in a micro way, of the strenuous efforts people have made to access this extraordinary place. Another nearby trail goes down to Emerald Bay — a layer of water that appears green along the bay’s edge explains the name. Here, Santa Barbara socialite Lora Knight commissioned a Scandinavian-style mansion, Vikingsholm, in 1929, and, on an island in the bay are the remains of a stone teahouse in the same style — a ruin made even more evocative by the knowledge that a hermit lived for years on the island. Trail calm now There’s no one else on a small portion of the Pacific Crest Trail that I hike and that passes through the slightly lunar, extremely dry landscape known as Desolation. I don’t expect to have this trail to myself at any walkable season next year: One of December’s most widely anticipated movie releases is “Wild,”with Reese Witherspoon playing a woman grappling on the trail with her divorce and her mother’s death. (A few days after my return, the King Fire rages for more than two weeks, laying waste to nearly 100,000 acres, including parts of Desolation, but largely sparing Tahoe and its immediate surrounds.) Tahoe tends to hold on to much of the summer’s heat through the fall, and both kayaking and paddle boarding remain popular pursuits, especially in the early-morning calm. My first effort at paddle boarding, unfortunately, doesn’t go so well. “You did fine,” the instructor kindly lies. Activity rewarded Still, in the compensations category, there was a bird I’d never seen floating nearby, a chestnut-colored merganser with a fringe on its head. It’s hardly a triathlon, but still I schedule a double reward for this rare bout of activity: a massage at the spa at the Ritz-Carlton at Northstar and a meal at its flagship restaurant, Manzanita. On the trip’s last morning, I wake up early, and the sun coming over the Carson range paints the placid lake in pink, orange and blue. To butcher Wordsworth: bliss in this dawn to be alive. On the descent from these heights, again the ears pop. The signs come on all too quickly — 5,000 feet, 4,000, 3,000 — and lower still. Mountain Bike, Paddle Board and Kayak Rental: Tahoe Adventure Company, various locations; (530) 913-9212.

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