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Trail and teamwork on Tahoe's Rim.

Like a necklace around a beautiful woman, this trail is a-building through a partnership that benefits all parties. "I believe we need to look at innovative partnership arrangements, in which the private sector and recreation groups team up with government. The Forest Service is ready and willing to work with other members of the recreation community, in partnership, to develop the potential of the National Forests. "

F. Dale Robertson Chief, U. S. Forest Service AMERICAN FORESTS, March/April 1988

Recent history shows that Forest Service Chief Dale Robertson is on solid ground in encouraging partnership projects on the National Forests. Many have proven to be very successful. The Tahoe Rim Trail is one such project that has made great strides in a relatively short time, has been recognized at Forest Service headquarters in Washington, DC, and is used as a model for recreation partnerships by agency officials.

The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) is a volunteer project that was set up to plan, construct, and maintain a 150-mile hiking and equestrian trail along the ridgetops surrounding Lake Tahoe-the nation's largest mountain lake-that straddles the California-Nevada border at an elevation of 6,225 feet just east of the Sierra Nevada crest.

The TRT route includes 50 miles of existing Pacific Crest Trail west of the lake, much of which passes through California's Desolation Wilderness. Volunteers have built 40 additional miles of new TRT since construction began in 1984. The brilliant blue water of Tahoe, covering 191 square miles, is visible along much of the trail route. Short spur trails to nearby knolls will offer sweeping vistas of the Tahoe Basin, framed by the granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada on the west and the darker-colored, volcanic Carson Range to the east. The trail winds through forests of lodgepole pine, jeffrey pine, and red fir, and crosses meadows colored by wildflowers in early summer and fringed with the bright gold of quaking aspens in fall. The trail crosses historic pioneer routes and passes tree carvings made by Basque sheepherders who once grazed flocks on the mountain meadows. Winter snows that force hikers and equestrians from the high-country trail bring new opportunities for cross-country skiers.

Since its inception as an idea just nine years ago, the trail project has continuously gained momentum. In 1983, the Tahoe Rim Trail Fund, Inc. (TRTF), a non-profit corporation guided by a volunteer board, was organized to administer the project, recruit volunteers, and raise funds. Now with over 1,000 dues-paying members, the TRTF has raised several hundred thousand dollars and evolved into a very efficient and productive organization.

Good organization is a big asset for the TRTF, especially in dealing with the many jurisdictions in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The trail route crosses three National Forests, six counties, two states, and is subject to planning and permit approval from the bi-state Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. The Forest Service's Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU), the TRTF'S public-sector partner for the trail project, is well acquainted with the jurisdictional web. The LTBMU was formed as a special unit to manage the lands of the three National Forests within the Lake Tahoe watershed. Ninety percent of the TRT route is on Forest Service land, and coincidentally, the trail closely follows the LTBMU boundary. In addition to the TRTF/forest Service partnership, the project involves a second partnership between the TRTF and the Nevada Division of State Parks, which manages five percent of the land along the trail corridor.

Both public agencies have written agreements with the TRTF that delineate responsibilities. Basically, the agencies assume responsibility for compensating volunteers for injury and for protection against tort claims. As needed, they provide specialized tools and equipment, and technical assistance in areas such as route planning, environmental assessment, and trail construction methods. The TRTF'S primary duties are to provide volunteer labor, register and maintain records of volunteers and construction activity, and raise funds.

A very close working relationship exists between the partners, and the dedication of individuals on each side has been extraordinary. The Forest Service and the TRT project have always had close ties. Glenn Hampton, a Forest Service recreation officer, first blazed the idea for a TRT in 1980. He began forming a volunteer organization and enlisted the help of Bill Tisher, an outdoor writer and columnist for the local Tahoe Daily Tribune. Hampton retired and moved from the area before construction started; however, Tisher served three years as TRTF president after the group officially formed in 1983.

Bob McDowell, the LTBMU recreation and special-use officer, approaches the project from each side of the partnership. He serves as a TRTF board member, chairs the Landowner Relations Committee, and has personally committed to future trail maintenance by signing up for the TRTF'S "Adopt-a-maintenance-mile" Program.

"It's a great partnership because with the Forest Service's current funding and resources, this project could not be done without the assistance of a volunteer organization," McDowell said. "It gives the agency direct contact with a group of individuals who gain understanding of how the land is managed. We can explain agency goals, and we get a user group that can provide input on recreation management.

John Richardson, administrator for the Nevada Division of State Parks, has also seen both sides of his agency's partnership with the TRTF. Like McDowell, he became so enthusiastic about the TRT that he now devotes many volunteer hours to the project, and he's in his second year as president of the TRTF Board.

"With the TRT project, we'll be given some 10 miles of new trail, along with interpretive signs and brochures in one of the largest and most heavily used parks in our system," said Richardson. "These are facilities we wouldn't have gotten for a number of years, but now we'll see them in the next three to four years."

Managing the TRTF office and steering the organization's daily activity is executive director Vicki Raucci Gonzales, who formerly served with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and has an extensive background in environmental planning and outdoor recreation management. Gonzales and a secretary are the TRTF'S only paid em ployees.

"The TRT is a project that benefits everyone-the agencies look good, and the taxpayers get a new recreation trail at little expense," Gonzales says. "But most of all, I think the project benefits the volunteers, because they get involved at ground zero and see to completion something that serves as a legacy for their children and grandchildren."

One of the project's most active and dedicated volunteers is South Lake Tahoe resident Charlie Smith. When he retired in 1984, Smith planned to spend a lot of time fishing but soon got bored with that pastime. He now works full time on the TRT project, serving as crew leader, an area coordinator for construction, a TRTF board member, and a trails committee member. He works just as hard during the non-construction season on fundraising projects, membership, publicity, and office chores. In describing his new career, Smith says, "The work is steady, and of course, there's also the pay-I get $100 an hour in satisfaction." "I enjoy it. There's plenty of fresh air and hard work, the views are tremendous, and you meet a lot of good people from every walk of life who come from all over the country," Smith added.

Since the Forest Service has used the project as a model, Gonzales has been contacted by volunteer groups around the country for advice on similar projects. "The Forest Service has always encouraged voluntarism by individuals, but I think the agency is starting to see how the synergy of groups can advance productivity by leaps and bounds," she said.

In its early stages, the TRTF was taken under the wing of the Appalachian Trail Club, but it never really needed the level of assistance that the Club has provided to other trail-building groups, according to Gonzales. However, Gonzales values some seasoned advice from the Club. "They said, you stay in the planning stage forever, but you won't really know what you can do until you throw yourselves into the work and actually begin trail construction," Gonzales recalls.

The building of the Tahoe Rim Trail began in July 1984 when 50 volunteers put tools to ground and completed 1.5 miles of trail. To date, 40 miles of new trail are completed, and the project has over 600 active volunteers. Other TRTF accomplishments include a combase database for membership and volunteer records, a TRT Volunteer Handbook with detailed job descriptions and duties for committee chairs and volunteers, a 24-hour Trail Builder's Hotline with recorded information on work party times and locations, and several hundred thousand dollars raised through member dues, individual and corporate donations, memorials, sales of TRT souvenirs, and an "Adopt-a-construction-mile" program. Funds raised for the 1987-88 fiscal year totalled nearly $212,000, which included a grant of $120,000 form the California Tahoe Conservancy designated primarily for trailhead construction.

Gonzales views fundraising and the ability to solicit grants as significant benefits of a partnership, because a non-profit private organization has fewer restrictions in this area than the Forest Service.

The partnership has also produced an excellent trail construction guide through the efforts of Forest Service landscape architect Frank Magary and the TRTF Trail Committee. The guide is given to all crew leaders during their training. It explains the technical aspects for locating, building, and maintaining the trail, along with safety and first-aid information.

The TRTF hopes to complete trail construction in 1992, although some people think this is a bit optimistic. The organization is committed to ongoing maintenance after the trail is built, but it is also looking beyond trail completion into other areas to channel its energy. Gonzales sees potential for feeder and connecting trails into the main TRT, and opportunities for interpretive activities and guided trips.

One of McDowell's concerns is that the group continue to be active and productive and evolve into something that can continue to help the Forest Service. He has worked with several of the LTBMU'S volunteer programs and is very supportive of partnerships in which volunteers can do work they enjoy and also contribute to the Forest Service's mission.

"The opportunities for volunteer programs in the recreation field are unlimited, but we have to nurture volunteer projects and give proper recognition and meaningful work to the volunteers for these programs to be successful," McDowell says. People who love the land and its resources are definitely out there, and many are willing to contribute their time in productive ways." AF
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Title Annotation:Tahoe Rim Trail, California, Nevada
Author:Rieger, Ted
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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