The Future of Tahoe Mountain Biking, TAMBA envisions basin-wide trail system

Rider Griffin Gregory on Bijou Meadow. | Courtesy Dave Clock

The future of Lake Tahoe mountain biking is in our hands. The leading area advocate for the growing sport and its popular trails, Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association (TAMBA), has released its first five-year plan. In the document, the advocacy organization lays out its accomplishments, current projects and regional vision through 2025.

Read the 2020-25 strategic plan

Founded in 1988 by area diehards from both ends of the lake, TAMBA built and maintained trails and educated the public for 15 years before volunteer burnout led to disbandment in 2003. The nonprofit was renewed in 2011 when several popular trails such as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride Trail in South Lake Tahoe and others near Kirkwood and Caples Creek became part of proposed wilderness designations.

“We don’t want people to think that TAMBA is just this entity out there building trails. We’re made of members, supporters and volunteers. Some of our top donors are hikers. We’re stewards of the forest and trail lovers.”
–Ben Fish

This was around the time current TAMBA president Ben Fish joined the effort.

“Fifteen years or so ago I used to ride illegal jump trails and the prospect of having those trails shut down caught my attention,” he says. “It was a motivator to look a little broader and not take for granted that something near and dear can get taken away very quickly if we don’t get involved and create a dialogue.”

Riders Max Fish and Amy Fish on Valley View. | Courtesy Ben Fish

TAMBA provides a voice for mountain bikers and trail advocates throughout the Tahoe Basin. It works as an intermediary between numerous land management and advocacy agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, Nevada State Parks and Tahoe Rim Trail Association, by providing an expert mountain-bike-specific angle on Tahoe trail theory along with the pure muscle and know-how for building sustainable lines.

“We’ve been pretty successful by winging it so far,” says Fish. “But right now we really need a guiding document to look to the future of what TAMBA can contribute to the trail system in Tahoe.”

The 12-page plan focuses on the construction of an interconnected basin-wide trail system, organizational stability, financial sustainability and increased community awareness while promoting values of trust, respect, collaboration and fun. It clearly reflects TAMBA’s growing ranks, pocketbook and influence in regional policy making.

Through a combination of events, grants and donations TAMBA has reached an operating budget of $350,000, the majority of which goes to trail building and maintenance. For the first time, there’s full-time staff including trails director Patrick Parsel and administrative manager Joan Wharton.

“I’ve been volunteering for 10 years now and it really turns into a second job that you’re not paid for,” says Fish. “It can be thankless. We don’t want to let the organization die and burn out. Having this document is about looking toward the future.”

Rider Ken Raspen on Kingsbury Stinger. | Courtesy Ben Fish

A Productive History
Beginning with the first successes at protecting classic routes from wilderness designation, TAMBA has pursued an ambitious path of multi-use trail building, volunteer training and community fundraising throughout the Tahoe Basin. Since 2011, members have rebuilt, rerouted, extended, maintained or outright created more than 40 trails, including one of the first legal jump trails on National Forest land at Corral Trail. A process like this can take upwards of three to four years and cost thousands for environmental scoping and governmental approval.

More recent accomplishments include Beaver Tail Trail in Kings Beach, Incline Flume Trail and Kingsbury Stinger and Valley View reroutes in South Lake Tahoe. Members have installed map kiosks and more than 100 signs regarding directions and etiquette basin-wide. One of their most popular creations for all ages is Bijou Bike Park in South Lake Tahoe.

“It’s been cool to see the organization grow from nothing to something significant,” says Fish. “We don’t want people to think that TAMBA is just this entity out there building trails. We’re made of members, supporters and volunteers. Some of our top donors are hikers. We’re stewards of the forest and trail lovers.”

TAMBA holds monthly leadership meetings to bring the trail community together every fourth Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. through the website. There will a two-day volunteer crew leader training led by Parsel in the spring.

“We’re seeing trails are super important right now,” says Fish. “People can’t play a sport. A lot of people have turned to trails for an outlet. While it’s not necessarily your God-given right, it’s an honor to have the trail system we have in Tahoe and to have it endure for multiple generations.”

2020 Trail Projects
TAMBA’s biggest project for 2020 is the addition of an upper section to Tyrolian Downhill extending it up to Mount Rose Highway. It’s been funded by a $40,000 grant from Tahoe Fund with much of the heavy lifting being done by Cam Zink of the nonprofit Sensus R.A.D. Trails.

The project repurposes old logging roads into 2 miles of sustainable single track linking the current entry point to an official start at Tahoe Meadows. Zink drew up detailed plans for proposed jumps in an effort aimed at getting another expert-level trail approved on National Forest land.

“This kind of sets the standard,” says Fish. “Each and every feature has to be approved by the Forest Service.”

Other projects underway this summer and fall are the continuing Stanford Rock reroute near Alpine Meadows, an upgrade of Kingsbury to Keller in South Lake Tahoe and the aspiring Lily Lake Trail ,which connects Angora Lakes and Glen Alpine parking lots via 2 miles of new trail above Fallen Leaf Lake.

The organization remains energized, but unfortunately the pandemic has put a damper on fundraising and volunteer efforts. While groups of 60 strong used to grab beers after a hard day’s work, crews are now limited to 10 by updated Forest Service rules.

Popular events such as Rose to Toads 62-mile race, the uproarious Tahoe Mountain Bike Festival and Corral Night Ride raised upwards of $20,000 a year and helped to weave the social fabric of the trail community. While a few dozen folks have kept the energy alive by raising thousands of dollars with epic rides done in the spirit of the festival, all in-person events were canceled for 2020.

“We were kind of born out of doing fun community gatherings and celebrations of trails,” says Fish. “It’s woven really deeply into us, so we are figuring out how to do community events and getting people together virtually.”

TAMBA regularly updates maps and conditions of trails on trailforks.com. In April, the TAMBA website posted guidelines for Sensible Riding in COVID Times.

“One of the problems we’re seeing especially this year is people that are new to trails,” says Fish. “Who knows where they are getting their info? Unfortunately, we can’t reach all the trail users. Now with more and more people using the trails, trails are getting blown out way faster than they were five years ago. So we are constantly narrowing down trails and working on them.”

Another dilemma TAMBA has weighed in on is the proliferation of e-bikes on non-motorized trails. Due to a 2019 ruling by the Department of Interior, current federal guidelines allow them to ride on Bureau of Land Management and National Park holdings. Yet e-bikes continue to be prohibited by the Department of Agriculture on National Forest trails, which make up the overwhelming majority of rides in the Tahoe Basin. E-bikes are also not allowed on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

The supposed discrepancy and general lack of knowledge has led to friction between motorized and non-motorized bikers in the region. Along with trail overcrowding and illegal builds, this is one of the biggest concerns of the mountain-biking community today.

“We don’t support them or discourage them,” says Fish. “We try to follow in line with what the land managers are doing. It certainly is a challenge. There are a lot more people getting further out and on more dangerous trails without the skills it typically would’ve taken to get there.”

Vision for the Future
Along with its continuous trail building and outreach efforts, TAMBA is working with the Forest Service, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Tahoe Fund and other partners to define the vision of a sustainable, interconnected, basin-wide trail system. The gem of this project will be a bikeable dirt trail that loops around the whole of Lake Tahoe, called simply the Lake Trail.

As the rejuvenated reincarnation of TAMBA 2.0 tilts toward the future, Fish insists that the key to the success of all partners comes down to trail-user participation.

“The No. 1 thing that we want to see is more leadership in the community,” he says. “We’re blessed with great community support, but we’re still not there at all. If we had 200 crew leaders around the basin and way more supporters volunteering, that would be the No. 1 goal of the plan. In fear of TAMBA going away as it did in the early 2000s, the best way to keep us alive is to have the most support possible. We are just asking people to get involved. We’re really happy about this plan and seeing where the next years take the new version of TAMBA. There’s definitely a lot of room for growth.” | tamba.org