What is the Washoe Meadows Community?
We are a grassroots non-profit organization and coalition of conservation groups, volunteer activists and supporters from around the state that formed in 2006 to protect Washoe Meadows State Park at South Lake Tahoe from a plan to build a golf course in the park. The Community, along with Tahoe Basin leaders, has assembled respected scientists, environmentalists and economists to promote solutions that can effectively restore the Upper Truckee River and streams and wetlands that affect the water quality of Lake Tahoe; preserve the state park; and create wider recreational opportunities for the public.
What is Washoe Meadows State Park?
Washoe Meadows is a 608-acre wild land park in South Lake Tahoe, California. It is located in El Dorado County south of the city of South Lake Tahoe. Washoe Meadows was set aside for conservation over 30 years ago to protect its natural and cultural treasures and ensure the preservation of a pristine Lake Tahoe. Because of Washoe Meadows’ importance to the water quality and clarity of the lake, the State purchased it under an emergency statute in 1984 when the land was threatened by development.
The Parks Commission voted to establish Washoe Meadows as a State Park in 1987. It is a popular, all-season park where visitors can enjoy walking, jogging, bike riding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the park’s beautiful meadows and forests, as well as fish and swim in the Upper Truckee River, which borders the park. There is no fee to use the park.
Washoe Meadows harbors rare and intact native plant communities including unusual wetlands called fens that filter water that feeds the Upper Truckee River and ultimately flows into Lake Tahoe.
The land holds significance for the Washoe, Native Americans who traditionally lived there in the summer and for whom the park is named. The park provides important habitat for native and migrating wildlife, including predator species such as bear, bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions, and many species of birds, lizards, snakes, and small mammals. The Upper Truckee River supports many species of fish.
Washoe Meadows’ rich history, beauty and unique natural assets, once touted on the State Parks website, are no longer posted there. Thus the park’s significance and value have been erased from public view.
What’s at issue?
In 2011 and 2012 the California State Parks Commission voted to overturn Washoe Meadow’s State Park designation, instead making it a State Recreation Area, which affords less protection. Doing so was a necessary first step to turning over many acres of the park to a golf course developer.
The park’s reclassification was not just controversial. It was precedent setting. No other state park has ever before been downgraded in classification for commercial purposes.
Why would State Parks do this?
State Parks has been looking for ways to close a budget gap. In 2012 it threatened to close 72 State Parks until it was discovered that the department had millions of dollars on hand it had not reported.
The department has promoted a golf course development in Washoe Meadows as the only feasible way to restore the Upper Truckee River, the largest tributary of Lake Tahoe. The plan is tied to a golf industry study that concludes that a golf course at Washoe Meadows would bolster the local economy. Independent economists question the analysis.
The Upper Truckee divides Washoe Meadows from the existing golf course, which operates on state land. Built in the 1950’s the Lake Tahoe Golf Course has long been a source of sediment the river ultimately carries downstream to Lake Tahoe. Chemical runoff from the golf course and its supporting operations have been tied to contamination of the river and surrounding soil, threatening fisheries and other wildlife.
The river restoration approach State has chosen would require moving nine holes of the existing golf course across the river into Washoe Meadows. The plan requires removing over 1,600 trees, and converting wildlife habitat to fairways and greens. Scientists believe the required grading will impact the water table that supports the exceptional fens ecosystem.
Other options are available to restore the river that would provide for golf and keep Washoe Meadows a natural and family-friendly park, but these alternatives were rejected, largely because of pressure from the golf industry.
In 2011 and 2012, State Parks Commissioners approved State Parks recommendation to downgrade Washoe Meadows to a State Recreation Area, despite public opposition and expert testimony to the effects of the golf course on fish, wildlife and water quality in the Lake Tahoe watershed.
To date, Washoe Meadows Community has filed two lawsuits to stop destruction of the park.
What’s at stake?
Declassifying a State Park for purposes of commercial development sets a precedent that endangers other California State Parks. Washoe Meadows is a beloved park with extraordinary natural and historic resources. If it can be demoted and developed, no California State Park can be considered secure.
Moving the golf course into a natural area in the name of restoration isn’t solving the problem, it’s widening it. Reviews by hydrologists have shown that applying new, best practices to the river restoration and reconfiguring the golf course can achieve the restoration project’s goals without sacrificing Washoe Meadows State Park.
What can we do about it?
We are using political, legal and advocacy strategies. As the restoration project went through review, we lobbied the Legislature and state agencies that have a decision-making role. We provided advisory documents, expert testimony and public comments against demoting Washoe Meadows State Park to make way for the golf course.
In November 2011, immediately after the State Parks Commission’s voted to reclassify Washoe Meadows State Park as a recreation area, we filed suit over the State Parks Commission’s failure to follow procedures when it downgraded Washoe Meadows. We succeeded and the Commission re-heard the issue in January 2012, but they addressed only a few of the issues we raised and we filed a second lawsuit in February 2012.
We entered discussions, hoping for a win-win solution. However it became clear that no substantive agreement on protecting the park would be achieved. We continue our litigation while keeping the door open for further discussion and collaboration.
We’re building a broad coalition of park activists to educate the public and expand our support base. We lead park field trips and media tours. Without fail, when people see the park and learn about its treasures, they find it unthinkable that these would be lost to bulldozers and development—especially development masquerading as “conservation.”
How can you help?
We’ve accomplished a lot as unpaid volunteers, but we need additional funding to keep up the fight. We have a nonprofit fiscal agent, Resource Renewal. Donations to support our efforts are tax-deductible.
We also need letters of support. Please write to California lawmakers; Resources Secretary John Laird; the Tahoe Regional Planning Board; and the Director of State Parks Lisa Magnet, asking them to preserve Washoe Meadows State Parks.
Washoe Meadows State Parks belongs to the people of California, not well-connected business interests. Sacrificing Washoe Meadows State Park sets a dangerous precedent for State Parks, and for the future of Lake Tahoe; the land, water and wildlife in the Tahoe Basin; families who now use the park; and those who treasure the its natural wonders.
1. De-link the Upper Truckee River restoration project from the golf course development and find alternatives that don’t requiring destroying natural areas or sacrificing Washoe Meadows State Park.
2. Help California State Parks to regain its respected reputation and return to its mission as guardian of California’s natural, historic, cultural, and recreational heritage, by protecting Washoe Meadows State Park for present and future generations.
For more information:
To make a tax-deductible donation for Washoe Meadows Community:
Resource Renewal Institute
187 East Blithedale Ave
Mill Valley, CA 94941
(415) 928-3774 (Write Washoe Meadows in the memo line)