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Paddling Upstream – One Woman’s Tireless Effort to Build a 114-Mile River Trail

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Janet Phillips
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Paddling Upstream – One Woman’s Tireless Effort to Build a 114-Mile River Trail
How Janet Phillips is making the Tahoe Pyramid Trail a reality
“I think it really reinforces the idea of our region being a unified place. The trail exemplifies that we are all connected.” – Janet Phillips

It wasn’t until Janet Phillips finished her 21-year career as the Director of Water Resources at Sierra Pacific Power (now NV Energy) that she really got to work. That was back in 2001, when she got the idea to develop a 114-mile trail paralleling the Truckee River from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake. The long-time river advocate saw an opportunity – to give folks ready access to the entirety of this beautiful community resource.

Because she had been responsible for negotiating river disputes throughout her career, Phillips knew the Truckee River stakeholders, and they knew her. With her connections, she figured this Tahoe-Pyramid Trail project (renamed in 2018 from its original moniker, Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway) might take five years. She admits she was a bit naïve at the onset.

Slow, steady progress

“I was a complete trail-building novice,” Phillips explains. “It was much harder than I expected – but I’m stubborn, so I kept going.”

And go she did. Sixteen years after she launched the massive trail-building endeavor (she publicly announced the project in 2003), 80 percent of the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail is complete. When finished, the 114-mile trail will descend more than 2,000 feet from Lake Tahoe, the source of the Truckee River, to Pyramid Lake, the high-desert, geographic terminus of the Truckee River. Using a combination of existing dirt and paved roads, new trails and bridges, the trail will connect these two iconic bodies of water.

The Tahoe-Pyramid Trail is an all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. So exactly how has this group created over 90 miles of trail along rocky mountains, through narrow canyons and in remote desert landscapes? The short answer: with donations, grants, volunteers and lots of grit and determination.

Phillips says the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail organization has invested over $3 million dollars in the creation of the trail and tens of thousands of volunteer hours. All trail design, permitting and planning has been provided by volunteers, and more than half the engineering fees have been donated. The money raised has funded trail-construction crews and trail-building materials.

High praise

It appears the group is doing it right.

The Tahoe-Pyramid Trail and its founder have racked up some impressive awards for their work. Most recently, Phillips was awarded EDAWN’s 2018 President’s Award, recognizing “a game changing contributor to Northern Nevada’s economic development.”

In 2017, Phillips received the California Trail Champion award from California Trials & Greenways, recognizing individuals for their contributions to trails and greenways at a local level.

In 2015, American Trails awarded their Planning and Design Award to the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail, and in 2014 the group was awarded the EPA Green Transportation Award. The Federal Highway Administration awarded its Environmental Excellence in Nonmotorized and Multimodal Transportation to Tahoe-Pyramid Trail in 2013. And in 2012, the trail was named Best Long Distance Trail by the Coalition for Recreational Trails.

The final push

In total, more than 90 miles of the 114-mile Tahoe-Pyramid Trail are done, with just over 20 to go. And while that’s great progress, the remaining sections are proving quite problematic. They include:

  • .4 miles between Hirschdale and Floriston
  • 3 miles between Vista and Mustang
  • 17 miles from USA Parkway to Wadsworth

While rocky and hard-to-access, the Hirschdale to Floriston section should be completed this summer. However, Phillips can’t put a timeline on the rest of the trail.

What she didn’t know when she dreamed up this project was that the railroad owns 400 feet of land adjacent to the entire Truckee River – the flattest, easiest to traverse land – and they won’t share. To develop a route that avoids railroad land requires the cooperation and support of many organizations, including landowners, Storey County government, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Truckee Carson Irrigation District.

Among those whose support would be a boon to the trail project are the owners and tenants of the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center – the burgeoning industrial park located off USA Parkway. A trail connecting the center to Sparks is popular with many of them, and Phillips hopes power brokers at companies like Tesla, Zulily and Switch can help change political attitudes toward the project and bring Storey County into the coalition, helping get the last two segments built.

One last question: Why?

You may ponder why someone would spend 16 years devoted to a single passion project: Why commit so much time and energy, so many of her golden retirement years, to this arduous venture? 

“I think it really reinforces the idea of our region being a unified place,” Phillips says, “That people are lucky to live here and that the Truckee River is really a great asset. The trail exemplifies that we are all connected.”

How to support the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail

Many in our community want to see the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail completed. If you’re one of them, consider these ways of helping.

Donate

Volunteer

The website currently lists some specific skillsets they’re looking for, including:

  • WordPress content manager
  • Event planner
  • Access acquirer

They also regularly need those who can do:

  • Trail maintenance
  • Construction
  • Title research
  • Signage
  • GPS mapping
  • Route inspection
  • Permitting
  • Public relations

To put your talents to work for the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail, contact Janet Phillips directly via email or by calling 775-825-9868.

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