The U.S. Forest Service is moving forward with plans to return what once was a scenic playground for Nevada’s rich and famous to nature’s design. After a decade of debate, negotiations and legal hearings, the Forest Service announced in June its intentions to manage the Incline Lake area.
“I am confident this plan provides for restoration of this important ecosystem as well as sustainable recreational benefits for current and future generations,” said Forest Service supervisor Jeff Marsolais
Located on a stunning forested ridgeline between Lake Tahoe and Reno, Incline Lake for years served as a private enclave for some of Nevada’s most famous citizens and visitors.
Celebrities who spent summers at the lake fishing and picnicking included U.S. Sen. Patrick McCarran, dairy king Max Fleischmann and philanthropist Moya Lear.
During its years as a ritzy outpost, Incline Lake’s cabins, indoor pool, and deep space telescope were mostly off limits to the public.
In a complicated transaction announced in 2008, more than 770 acres surrounding the lake were acquired by the Forest Service. Nevada Sen. John Ensign, a primary supporter of the deal, described it at the time this way:
“The Incline Lake property is truly spectacular, including some of the most breathtaking views in Nevada that will now be protected for all the public to enjoy, It’s an awe-inspiring site, and through this agreement we are ensuring that this oasis will be enjoyed by our grandchildren and generations beyond.”
The parcel’s owners, the Incline Lake Corp., originally asked for $75 million, but government appraisals put the value at much less. A complicated “friendly condemnation” process in federal court ultimately paid the owners $43.5 million.
Some locals hoped for the lake and nearby structures to remain in place. But a federal study said the 1942 dam that created the lake would “liquefy” in an earthquake. If further found feeding the little lake with water eroded the Lake Tahoe watershed. The lake was drained.
For years afterward, the government studied the best ways to manage the Incline Lake area for future generations, and, in 2014, announced that the best approach would be to remove the dam and restore the area as a wetland meadow.
Controversy wasn’t over. That year, the Nevada Department of Wildlife filed a formal protest, saying the lake should be repaired, refilled and made into a public fishery for Lahontan cutthroat trout. The Forest Service rejected that proposal, insisting such a plan would still put the public at risk.
The long debate over the future of Incline Lake reached its latest milestone with this summer’s announcement of a draft decision to manage some 1,083 acres in the area. The dam will be removed, stream channels, aquatic species habitat and damaged wetlands restored and degraded areas revegetated. Tree density in wetland and meadow areas will be reduced.
Existing trails will be re-routed, a new trail built near the former lake bed and interpretive and wayfinding signs installed. Survey work for the $2.5 million project was completed this summer, with restoration work expected to commence the summer of 2019 or 2020.
The plan represents the best way moving forward, Marsolais said.
“The Incline plan is a huge step toward improving national forest recreation opportunities and public access on the north shore of Lake Tahoe,” Marsolais said.