Three Seconds on the Fourth of July, Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, California
Inhabiting the center of my book Lake Tahoe: A Fragile Beauty, both literally and figuratively, is a series of images on Emerald Bay. As Tahoe’s most recognizable landmark, this is only fitting. The first half of the book deals with open landscapes and the details within. The second half features, what I term, intersecting landscapes, those views that give us insight into our own experience vis-a-vie the land.
Emerald Bay has always been central to the Tahoe experience. For newcomers, the striking relief of Emerald Bay, overshadowed by glacier-carved granite peaks, is a mandatory stop. Many hike to the Vikingsholm at the base of the bay, and imagine a romantic past. The avalanche scar reminds of us of the unintended consequences of our own actions. To me, Emerald seemed the perfect location to illustrate our transient relationship with the landscape.
The idea of a series came to me at the local market while I was observing another photographer, one I’d never met, discussing his own book of photography on Lake Tahoe. “Another picture of Emerald Bay,” the shopkeeper said with a hint of dismay as she flipped through his book. “Ouch,” I said to myself. It was a familiar photographer’s trap: shoot first ask questions later. What did I want to say about Emerald? What does Emerald have to say about Tahoe? I knew if I could capture the power of Emerald Bay, it would translate to the whole of Tahoe. In the series, the frame stays the same while it is the lake that changes, transformed by weather, light, and time.
Boats illegally moored to beach. Sugar Pine Point State Park. July 2, 2011
It’s become common knowledge that invasive species are a significant threat to Lake Tahoe’s ecosystem and water quality. The Tahoe Environmental Research Center offers an overview on the lake’s invasive species and history on their website. Given that invasive species are most commonly introduced into the lake by boaters and occur in greater concentrations near marinas, it is perplexing that the boating community is not making a greater effort to protect Lake Tahoe.
While the boating community is to be commended for getting on board with invasive species boat inspections in a single year, there is ample opportunity for boaters to be proactive and to mitigate their effects on Tahoe. Lakefront property owners obstruct views and access with their piers and buoys. Boat noise is a constant din during summer. Once a boat is launched into the lake, it enjoys free use of the entire lake. Even where boating restrictions exist, short staffing at parks and sheriff departments hinders enforcement.
The photograph above shows a typical summer day at Sugar Pine Point State Park where boaters illegally beach their boats, effectively prohibiting paying park users from swimming or walking along the shore. The park claims that they do not have the staffing to patrol the beach. In effect, the non-paying park users prevent legitimate park patrons from using the beach. If the park is unable to properly monitor a given activity, it should be banned altogether instead of allowed to persist unabated.
It is perplexing as to why boaters are not paying the annual state parks use pass fee (plus additional camping fees when applicable) for water access to California’s parks. In addition, it only seems appropriate that boaters should pay additional fees to fund ongoing invasive species eradication programs. These fees could easily be assessed when boat owners register their boats and submit to inspections.
By paying their way, boaters would strengthen stewardship of Lake Tahoe instead of weakening it by overtaxing already strained resources. The funds would go a long way towards keeping parks adequately staffed and increasing the protection of this national treasure.
If you agree with these sentiments, send an email Susan Grove (firstname.lastname@example.org), Superintendent at the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Lake Tahoe Sector, Sierra District. Please CC the League to Save Lake Tahoe (email@example.com).
Truckee Meadow. South Lake Tahoe, California
More than that of leaves changing colors, Fall in the Sierra is a time of golden grasses. Above, the Upper Truckee River meanders toward the shore of Lake Tahoe.
This meadow is part of the largest wetland in the Tahoe basin, stretching back several miles along Highway 50 towards Echo Summit. In the last half century this area has seen dramatic changes. Christopher Soulard and Christian Raumann of the United States Geological Survey have compiled historic orthoimagery data on South Lake Tahoe, of which this meadow, being adjacent to Tahoe Keys, is of particular note. In fact, Google Earth used the USGS Tahoe data for its first historical imagery sample (read about it in the New York Times). The dredging of Tahoe Keys has created some of the most dramatic environmental damage to the Tahoe ecosystem.
Riverbank. Upper Truckee Meadow. South Lake Tahoe, California.
Today, the Upper Truckee is the focus of major environmental restoration. Of primary concern is a golf course that restricts and narrows the river’s flow and is a significant source of sedimentation into the lake. Over the last twenty years the realignment of the river through the golf course has, in some parts, eroded 50 feet of the embankment. The current plan calls for moving the golf course into undisturbed neighboring lands in Washoe Meadows State Park so as to restore the river’s natural flow and its adjoining riparian habitat. This plan has upset both golfers, who are concerned about increased course fees, and environmentalists, who wish to protect surrounding forest lands. The park enjoys the golf revenue and says that the forest land to be offset by the golf course is not endangered habitat and is scarcely used (by humans). Now that I know the park is there, I’ll go visit it. Just sayin’.
Read about the Upper Truckee restoration in the Sacramento Bee here. The Upper Truckee Restoration EIR and other project information can be found here.