Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Urban trailhead in middle of South Lake Tahoe

2/08 tahoe mt.news

By Kathryn Reed

An urban trailhead may seem like any oxymoron, but for many people it really is the first step to the great outdoors.
Explore Tahoe, a collaborative effort between South Lake Tahoe, California Tahoe Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service and Tahoe Heritage Foundation, is bringing locals and tourists in touch with everything this area is really about.
“I was in here the other day to look around. Before, I came in to look for general information about Tahoe. I was interested in bike riding,” said Esther Price of Australia. In mid-December, a bike ride was still feasible. The problem was her daughter broke her arm skiing so those plans got derailed.
Nonetheless, Price was back at Explore Tahoe a couple days later using one of the two computers to book air travel. Computers are available for free to search the Internet and all things Tahoe.
A snowshoe program began last month. Summer treks are in the planning stages. Hiking and biking info is abundant. It’s the one-stop recreation outlet this area has been lacking for so long.
A $168,500 grant OK’d by the CTC in December will enhance the 7-month-old facility with interactive displays – something visitors have asked for. Hands-on activities may include items about orienteering, wildlife, ecosystems and lake clarity. They are expected to be in place by summer.
Some displays are slated to go in the front of the building which is a bit sparse.
“Goals for enhancement include: Extending interactive experiences into the facility beyond the Kid’s Area, and targeting a broader age range with the content; using the new interactives to answer some common questions such as ‘Which mountains are which?’ and ‘Where are we in relationship to the lake?’” project manager Deb Vreeland wrote the Tahoe Mountain News.
Brooks Hill, a recreation leader who works at Explore Tahoe, says the bulk of the questions she answers are related to transit. This is logical because out the side door is where all the buses stop – casino and ski shuttles, BlueGo, Amtrak. She and other employees are a one-stop resource for answers about how to get places with or without a personal vehicle and what to do when you get there.
On this particular Friday she was working on a display that will be used in “Wildlife Uncovered” – a program being coordinated with Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care targeting all South Shore kids in first through fourth grades.
“It’s a hands-on tactile program that promotes good forest stewardship,” said Tim Rains, recreation coordinator for Explore Tahoe.
Hill was putting the final touches on a mule deer display. Pelts, scat, prints, skulls and migration habits are part of the lesson. Teachers are encouraged to book a trip on a Wednesday or Friday.
Strolling through the center is one big lesson in Tahoe history. An hour-long video with images of years gone by and current day scenarios plays continuously. Walls are decorated with facts like how the Sears Tower at 1,450 feet and Empire State Building at 1,250 feet would be submerged if dropped into Lake Tahoe, which has a depth of 1,645 feet.
Walls are decorated with words and pictures about wilderness, walks – urban and in the forest.
A butterfly exhibit contains 35 caterpillars waiting to evolve. A children’s art gallery shows off kokanee from last fall’s festival. These displays will rotate so the site never seems stagnant.
The gift shop is run by Tahoe Heritage Foundation. They don’t pay rent and the city gets a share of the proceeds. Periodicals about Tahoe, fire, trees, ones for kids and outdoor adventure guides are for sale. Stuffed animals, satchels of Douglas fir, calendars and other items can be bought.
Rains is looking for about 500 people a day to pass through the urban trailhead, with 2,000 per day the goal in the coming years. He reported to the CTC board the day the grant was awarded that 283 people came by the first day of December when there was no snow on the ground and no events in town.
It took about 2.5 years of planning before Explore Tahoe opened in July 2007. The Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and now defunct South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce were invited to participate, but declined.
The Conservancy has come up with the bulk of the funding. In addition to last month’s grant, the CTC awarded a $97,000 planning grant and $1.56 million for design and construction. The Forest Service allocated $150,000, TRPA $30,000 and STPUD $5,000 – all for design and construction.
According to Councilwoman Kathay Lovell, who with then-Councilman John Upton spearheaded the project for the city, the goal is to have the facility pay for itself.
“If we end up making money someday, terrific,” Lovell said. Rent runs about $140,000 – a cost the city was paying even when the site was empty. “It’s the only place you can go to get the educational component combined with the visitor information in one place.”
Lovell says it’s a must-see.
She’s right.

Key facts:

Location: Between Marriott Timber Lodge and Cecil’s Market
Cost: Free
Hours: Seven days a week, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Telephone: (530) 542-2908
Website: www.exploretahoe.org

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