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Photos: First Track Productions
It’s not uncommon for a post-wildfire forest closure to last a year, often more, so when the national forest surrounding South Lake Tahoe reopened less than two months after the Caldor Fire raged through Tahoe Basin last fall, TAMBA, the local trail group, got a head start on repairing the extensive damage left in the fire’s wake.
“We’re much farther ahead than we thought we’d be,” said Patrick Parsel, trails director for the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association. By the end of October, Parsel and his crew had cleared safety hazards like fallen trees and dangerous stumps from the most popular trails: Corral, Sidewinder, Powerline, Armstrong, Armstrong Connector and Toad’s, as well as cleared out the ash loaded onto the trails, and built up the edges of the tread that sluffed away as the vegetation holding it up burned.
The Caldor Fire singed more than 221,000 acres when it scorched the Tahoe region in late August, tearing through 20 miles of trail in one of the most popular riding destinations in the state. Although the trails survived, the visual landscape is markedly different, and everything surrounding the dirt is gone.
“It was a hot burn so it stripped every living thing off the ground, “ said TAMBA executive director Drew Bray. “It left the soil completely cooked, whole hillsides that were held up with bushes and trees are now just bare dirt.”
From here, Parsel will need to take stock after the winter, and see if the trails sustained additional damage, from a warm spring runoff, or a big series of rainstorms, for example. Then there’s years of long term work to be done—none of the bridges or trailhead signs have been replaced yet, an expense likely to be upward of $50,000—and since all the vegetation is essentially gone, they need to reassess the slopes, and add in costly rock armoring where bushes or small trees once held dirt in place. That ensures longterm sustainability, especially in the event of another wildfire.
Trails that had already been armored to fend off erosion held up remarkably well in both the fire, and a huge October storm that followed, Parsel said.
The true costs of restoration likely won’t be known for years, and while federal grants and funding will be coming in to help, TAMBA is also spearheading a fundraiser this month aiming to raise unrestricted dollars to get shovels in the dirt sooner. The fundraiser has so far brought in about $27,000—money that will be used both for Caldor Fire restoration, as well as TAMBA’s larger 10-year plan to build 50 miles of trail to better connect trail networks throughout the Tahoe Basin.
Ride Concepts, which is based in nearby Reno, has teamed up with TAMBA to support the fundraiser, both in making its own donation, and by incentivizing its customers to donate. Every donation made to TAMBA in the month of December will be entered to win a $300 gift card to RideConcepts.com. The winner will be selected in January.
Also, TAMBA will need lots of volunteers when work starts again in earnest this spring. For more information on volunteering, visit TAMBA.org.