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A Winter to Remember, and the Effects on Trails

Wow. What a winter. And why does that sound like the ‘past tense’... when it seems this winter just keeps going and going. Many of us will agree that for the Truckee Meadows, it’s hard to recall another winter like this one. There have been some big ones, like in 2016/2017, but I don’t remember a winter that remained so constant with winter storms as 2022/2023. Since November, it just seems like it’s been one storm after another.

This snow season in the Sierra Nevada has been one for the record books. And I think we are all having a bit of a snow hangover. But since It’s officially Spring now, let’s recap some facts just to keep this all straight:

  • As of March 20, 2023, the Central Sierra Snow Lab at Donner Summit (elevation 6,894 feet above sea level), recorded 677 inches of snow, nearly 56 and a half feet, since October 1, 2022.

  • This makes the winter of 2022/2023 the 2nd snowiest season in the nearly 80 year history of the lab, or since 1946.

  • The snowiest season on record is 1952 when 812 inches of snow came down at the lab.

  • Reno has not hit 65 degrees since November 1 of 2022. And this has only happened 3 years in Reno, in recorded history.

  • The forecasted high temperature for Reno today (while I am writing this), March 24, 2023, is 39 degrees fahrenheit. Last year at the same time, it was 80 degrees.

And these record snows are not only happening in Nevada and California; the total accumulation of snow in parts of Utah are at 700 inches and counting. My friends up on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe have always seemed to have about 6 feet of snow on their roof top this winter, and lay awake at night listening to the house creak and moan. Not good, right? A serious issue. Better get up there and start shoveling snow again!

Wow. A winter to remember. But soon Sierra rivers and creeks will swell, and the runoff will begin. Flood plains will fill as well as waterways spill over their banks. So what does all of this water mean for the trails of the Truckee Meadows? It’s great to see the reservoirs and lakes fill, but what about the trails that are often built so close to rivers and creeks? We are lucky to have miles and miles of great trails in the foothills of the Sierra, and other portions of the Truckee Meadows. And yes, water features are often our favorite part of that trail we take ‘to get in some miles’. And oh boy, the waterfalls should be good this year.


But water can also be the enemy, if you will, of a trail system too. The movement of water can carry sediments that eventually ‘rut out’ or create gullies in trail treads. Then it becomes the snowball effect of more and more sediment being carried away, and ruts getting deeper and deeper. When extreme weather events or high spring runoff causes water to spill out of natural waterways, it will always follow the path of least resistance and often travel right down trail treadways. And of course damage will occur to structures like trail bridges and retaining walls. Trail engineers are always thinking of what water will do when it hits the trails.


So here’s the good news…we have skilled and well trained trail builders in the Truckee Meadows to construct and repair trails with great features such as trails designed out of and away from waterways, trails out of low areas and on side slopes that drain well, and carry water across the treadway, not down it. Simple structures can be built such as rolling grade dips and water bars where appropriate to encourage or allow water to exit a trail prism. Even better, I can tell you that many of our regional trails are well-suited to combat the ill effects of storm water on trailways. But not all of our trails are in this type of ‘good shape’, and there are never enough land managers and volunteers to repair our trails. This is going to be a very challenging year for our trails.


Here’s what you can do to help!

  • Stay off of trails, and do not ride, when trails are wet or have standing water on them. Wait for them to dry.

  • If you come across puddles on trails, ride through them very carefully and slowly. Better yet, walk your bike or hike around the perimeter of the puddle if you can, but always avoid going off-trail. Always try to walk in the center of the trail.

  • Always be safe and avoid areas with a lot of moving water. Do not attempt to cross waterways that are high with flood waters. If a bridge is out, turn around and go back.

  • Get involved and volunteer to help maintain or repair trails.

  • If you can, donate to help fund trail maintenance and repair projects.

The Truckee Meadows Trails program with the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation, and other partners like the Biggest Little Trail Stewardship and Washoe County Parks and Recreation, are having TMT Trail Days this year on May 6, June 3, September 23, and October 14. Join us to work on our regional trails in the Truckee Meadows. You can also donate to the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation ‘Trail Maintenance Fund’ to help fund volunteer trail days. Learn more about volunteering or donating at the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation website, tmparksfoundation.org


Now get out there and enjoy the trails! But please make sure they’re safe for you to use, and be sure to not damage them.

 

About the Author:

Jay is our new Trails Program Manager, and will be working to implement the goals of the Truckee Meadows Trails Initiative. He comes to us after a 30 year career with Nevada State Parks. His time with State Parks involved several years being a recreation specialist for the Nevada Tahoe Resource Team, and 13 years as park supervisor for Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park (Sand Harbor, Spooner Lake and Backcountry, Cave Rock, and Van Sickle). Jay loves the outdoors and is an avid hiker and mountain biker. And let's not forget, professional volunteer. Jay enjoys working with the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society and Tahoe Mountain Bike Patrol.

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