First-person experiences in the back country

The Tahoe Weekly has been covering the ongoing issues with back-country access and parking throughout the Tahoe Basin since fall 2015. Back-country skiers recently shared their experiences with parking issues in Tahoe while trying to access public lands as part of our March 23 story on “Accessing Tahoe’s public lands: Parking, access continue to plague back-country users.”

Taken in Emerald Bay on Feb. 23. | Brennan Lagasse

“Definitely unfortunate and shows a lot of work needs to be done to collaborate with Caltrans and others for a winter recreation parking plan.” -Mitch Markey

Brennan Lagasse | Feb. 23
“The day started early with a few cars parked in the normal area. Then my partner and I got back the car and there’s like 20 cars, and a Caltrans guy (Billy) was cool, but he was not happy he couldn’t turn his vehicle around the circle due to the cars.

“We talked, again he was cool, then a CHP officer showed up. He was also “cool,” but had a tow truck coming as Caltrans couldn’t do their job, and parking was all over the place. Later I was told two cars were towed (many more north on 89) and the two in question got hit with huge fines.”

Mitch Markey | Feb. 23
“There were a couple cars towed today. Definitely unfortunate and shows a lot of work needs to be done to collaborate with Caltrans and others for a winter recreation parking plan. All that aside, I think that a lot of clarification from both “sides” needs to be done before reacting to today’s events.”

David Reichel

Courtesy David Rieichel

“The first photo has two BC skiers attempting to ski down the plowed and mostly clear but gated Spring Creek Road after climbing and skiing Tallac. They are skiing past a car that has the key to this public road, but the general public is not allowed to park there. This is a policy change that removed over a hundred great parking spots.

Courtesy David Rieichel

“The other photo is from a car parked on the edge of Highway 89 near Spring Creek Road that got a ticket. I don’t know the owner but I thought it was sort of ironic that they are displaying their SnoPark permit, indicating their willingness to pay extra to have a place to park, but that didn’t help them on the side of the highway. I suspect they got a ticket because they were not fully off the road but that is hard to do when pullouts are not plowed and Spring Creek Road is gated (removing over a hundred parking spots).

“The only real option today was to park about a quarter mile away from Spring Creek road and walk on the side of the road, which doesn’t feel that safe with no shoulder and a 55 mph speed limit.”

Scott Rokis | Feb. 23
“Here’s a recount from our experience.

“8:20 a.m. We intend on skiing towards Hidden Peak and parking at the lot for Jake’s Peak as there is no longer parking for Hidden Peak (I believe). As we arrive to Jake’s parking … it is entirely full at 8:20 a.m. on a Thursday. Same thing for the day before, it was full. So, we continue on to the parking area at the road closure of Emerald Bay.

Courtesy Scott Rokis

“8:26 a.m. We unload to a packed parking lot at Emerald Bay. Another local woman warns us that we will be towed for parking on the south side of the road and the cost is $1,200. There are at least either cars in line at the south side of the road. The photo shows roughly 17 cars in the parking lot at this time and there were more to the east.

“9:00 a.m. Our group takes off on our tour. The discussion in the parking lot gives it a bit of an uncomfortable feeling, but there are no signs for instructing where to park. As the photos show, people are parked in any sort of order … there is limited organization.

“10:15 a.m. We notice the blower has arrived at the parking area, I take photos from above. We agree the right thing to do is cut our tour short and go down to see if we need to move cars.

“10:41 a.m. We arrive down to the blower and Nick Bliss goes to speak with the driver. The driver is upset. Due to parking on both sides of the road, he cannot compete his work. More importantly, with so many cars in the turnout at the gate, he is prevented from turning around. He attempts to blow an area clear so he can turn around and ends up stuck. There’s not much we can do at this point. Nick goes back to talk with the driver again. I don’t know what the discussion was.

Courtesy Scott Rokis

“10:56 a.m. Another Caltrans plow arrives. The driver talks (black sweatshirt, orange gloves in the photos) to the blower driver and them comes to talk with us. By this time, more back-country users arrive to their cars and join in the discussion. It was a very positive talk from both sides. The plow driver gave us clarity on what his best parking outcome would be. It surprised many because he preferred us to park on the south side of the road, after it had been blown. This is opposite of what others had heard before and reportedly, there were cars towed recently for being on the south side of the road (I can’t confirm that). All parties left this 10-minute talk with a positive feeling and clarity on what each side wanted. Nick even commented that he would send an e-mail out that night to all local users that he knew so that we’re all on the same page. The critical part of this discussion was the driver telling everyone … you are fine with parking today. We will not tow your cars. There are too many of you to tow. You are all fine for today.

Courtesy Scott Rokis

“11:10 a.m. As noted by Dependable Tow (Truckee) the call came in to tow cars at the Emerald Bay parking lot.

“1:20 p.m. We return from our tour to see the parking lot nearly empty, the blower leaving, CHP present and two of our cars towed.

“I don’t know how many cars they towed that day. Another tour group that included mostly locals arrived to find their cars on the tow truck and we’re able to negotiate for their release. They also recognized other’s cars in the lot and moved them to prevent towing. The car I was in was a white Jeep, it was parked next to the tree in the center. The place it was parked did not prevent the blower from doing its job and did not prevent the blower from turning around. After the blower and plow left, the location where this car was parked was neither blown nor plowed. There was no reason to two this car. The driver from Dependable Tow commented that he drove all the way down from Truckee, he gave back some cars … The 2nd car was parked next to the embankment on the North side (not pictured very well). That one was blocking the blower from fully finishing the Northern side of the road … but according to locals, that was the Caltrans preferred side of the road for us to park.

“We explained this whole situation to the staff at Dependable Tow and got our ticket reduced from $1,200 to $700. They commented it was a terrible situation for all. The other driver’s car was towed by Sierra Towing and he paid $950. Both of those cars were from out-of-town drivers…tourists.

“The most frustrating part of this all is that we, the back-country users, believe we did the right thing. We stopped skiing, came down, asked if we needed to move and where should we move. We went back in to the back country when Caltrans told us we were perfectly fine. Not 15 minutes later, the call comes in to tow our vehicles. What felt like a relationship the was building and working together became fractured. You can’t say one thing and immediately do another, which ends up costing people thousands of dollars.”