Plan to Shift Part of Golf Course onto California Parkland Causes Controversy
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Brandon Rittiman / Reno Public Radio
Keep Tahoe Blue is a phrase often heard in the area. But keeping the lake blue requires some work, especially on the Upper Truckee River. The river is the largest body of water that runs into the lake, bringing dirty sediment along with it.
In an attempt to keep Lake Tahoe clear, the California Park's Department has introduced a plan to restore the Upper Truckee River, so less sediment would travel downstream, into the lake. It's called Alternative 2.
The proposal would reconfigure the Lake Tahoe Golf Course, moving seven to nine holes away from the Upper Truckee River and placing them on the adjoining Washoe Meadows State Park. This would allow the parks department to restore a mile and a half of river to improve clarity in Lake Tahoe.
Parks Department employee Cyndi Walck is heading the restoration project.
“It’s a big deal for the lake, it’s a big deal for habitat, a big deal for water quality. And the area we would relocate the golf holes to is much less sensitive land. So it's upland forest, upland sage brush flats," Walck said.
But the proposal has some local residents concerned.
"The park is very important because it's a natural environment, family friendly, not exclusive for ppl who can afford to golf, and important wildlife corridor for upper truckee river and angorra creek and upland forests," said Lynne Paulson, with the Washoe Meadows Communit, a local group against Alternative 2.
The Washoe Meadows Community supports another plan, Alternative 3, which removes the golf holes near the river and either reduces the golf course to 9 holes, or shrinks it to an executive-sized golf course.
South Lake Tahoe resident and conservation biologist Rick Hopkins says moving the golf course into the park may hurt the environment.
"They're introducing a lot of non-native features, turf which is water hungry. They're having to cut down 1600 trees that are 10 inches in diameter, or longer," Hopkins said. He believes the Parks Department is using river restoration as an excuse to keep the golf course the same size.
The Parks Department's Cyndi Walck says she understands shifting the golf course is a trade-off, but in these tough economic times the golf course is an important revenue stream for the department. If the size of the golf course is reduced, she says it would hurt them financially.
"Unless you have the rosiest scenario, and [the Lake Tahoe Golf Course] is busy and booked fully and charges more than any other golf course in the area charges, it's not economically viable," Walck said.
According to a Parks Department study, golfers wouldn’t play at a 9 hole course. 79% of a few hundred golfers surveyed wouldn't play on a smaller course and 72% wouldn't play on an executive course. But some residents say the study didn't survey enough people--including women and children-- who may enjoy a smaller course.
Former South Lake Tahoe resident and golfer Ben Pignatelli says if the golf course is made smaller, he'd stop going.
“I watch my pennies, I try not to spend money especially on golf expenses, so I really want the full experience when I do play golf, and I think the proposal they have will enhance golf course that's already there," Pignatelli said.
While golf is a revenue stream for the Parks Department, each year the sport brings in less and less money.
According to Parks Department records, since 2002 the Lake Tahoe Golf course has seen revenues decline.
Kim Gorman from South Lake Tahoe is also a biologist. She says any decision is going to be a compromise.
"Ideally, I'd love there to be no golf courses," Giorman said. "I don't live in an idealistic world. We have businesses closing, we have streams degrading, we have tourists deciding whether to spend their money here or go elsewhere, and I just feel that we have an opportunity to wrap all of it together."
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will hold a meeting in December to vote on the environmental documents concerning the proposal. Those documents describe the environmental impacts of the plan. The Parks Department says won't apply for permits to begin construction for at least a year, if the project is approved.