RENO, Nev. (AP) - A new, 3-mile long bicycle and pedestrian trail hugging the northeast shore of Lake Tahoe is providing new access to hidden beaches and a bird's-eye view of the cobalt waters never available before.
The Tahoe East Shore Trail that opened June 28 includes an 810-foot-long bridge overhanging the lakeshore between Incline Village and Sand Harbor.
The $40.5 million highway project is designed to improve safety on a dangerous, congested stretch of State Highway 28 while providing hikers and bikers better access to the lake. It's also designed to prevent runoff from the road that reduces lake clarity.
The 10-foot wide, paved trail includes 17 designated vista points and 11 designated shoreline access points. It also has eight bear-proof trash stations, three dog waste bag stations, five bathrooms and more than 30 bike racks.
"It is just magical," Amy Berry, CEO of the Tahoe Fund, which raised more than $1 million from 5,500 private donors to help build the trail. "It gives you a viewpoint you've never had before,"
"I've lived in Tahoe for years, and I've never felt this way before until I stood on this bridge," she told the Reno Gazette Journal.
The trail stretches from the Tunnel Creek Café in Incline Village to Sand Harbor in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.
Most of the trail runs between State Route 28 and the lakeshore. From Tunnel Creek, where construction included 91 paved, off-street parking spots to replace dangerous roadside parking that's now illegal, the trail ascends about 150 feet in the first mile.
After the first climb, the trail descends to an underpass that loops walkers or riders beneath Highway 28 without exposing them to traffic.
"Before if you wanted to have this access you had to risk your life," Berry said.
The 810-foot bridge, the longest in the Tahoe Basin, and others on the trail were made in Ohio from a combination of steel and fiberglass to maximize strength and minimize weight. They were shipped to Nevada in separate pieces that were dropped into place on concrete supports called "micro-piles," which were designed to minimized ground disturbance. The longest span came in 18 pieces.
The highway project and trail should also make it easier for people to access the beautiful but notoriously crowded, beach at Sand Harbor, which is part of Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. The park attracts more than 1 million visitors annually, and about 700,000 of them go to Sand Harbor.
Karen Mullen-Ehly, whose brother was struck and killed by a vehicle in 2012 while bicycling on Highway 28 near Crystal Bay, has been working on the project as a consultant for the Tahoe Transportation District.
"This is a National Scenic Byway," she said. "It has never really lived up to that (designation) in the sense that it was a real safety issue and congestion issue."
The route sees more than 2.5 million vehicles annually. During peak usage time in the summer, cars and trucks are sharing space with as many as 2,000 pedestrians and bicyclists daily. The accident rate of 1.33 per million vehicles is higher than the statewide average of 0.96 for rural highways, she said.
Allen Wooldridge, supervisor of Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, said prohibiting shoulder parking will clear space for emergency responders. Emergency responders will get another assist because they'll be able to use the trail to access incidents near the lakeshore using a side-by-side, a small, off-highway vehicle.
Before the trail, "we'd have to park on the side of the road and play Frogger across the street," Wooldridge said. "Now we will be able to access the area a lot quicker."