The trail is now 75% completed, but when she first came up with the idea for a bike path following the Truckee River, Janet Phillips was working as the director of water policy for a utility company. She was fascinated by the competing interests that had a stake in the waterway — ranches, cities, Native American tribes, fish and birds — and the story the inland river tells. The Truckee River meanders from alpine environments beginning at Tahoe City to the desert terminus at Pyramid Lake.
“It’s a microcosm of all the water resource issues of the West. It seemed a shame to me there was no trail along the river,” Phillips said.
Knowing nothing about trail building when she started, Phillips spent a year researching the route. Then, in 2003, she launched the concept for the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway. When complete, the route will descend over 2,000 feet in 116 miles, using a combination of dirt and paved routes, trail and bridges. She thought it would take five years to build. Instead, the still-unfinished project is on year 13. Along the way, Phillips has learned a thing or two about trails.
“I’m a very persistent person. A lot of things in the trail world take a long time,” she said.
In 2006, the Bikeway became a nonprofit organization, and Phillips is the founding president. As each section of Bikeway opens for public use, it is turned over to a local government entity to own and manage.
Community support in both volunteer labor and dollars has grown for the bikeway from residents and visitors of Truckee, Reno and Tahoe — an area known as a mecca for serious outdoor recreationists.
“It kind of gets in your blood and makes people really passionate,” she said.
In June, the all-volunteer nonprofit organization announced a $1.5 million endowment from Ernest E. Tschannen a Swiss outdoorsman and active bicyclist from Orangevale, California.
“This fellow wanted to make sure that his charitable wishes held true,” so included the Bikeway in his will, said Phillips. Currently, the Bikeway has a goal of earning $100,000 a year for the next three years to match a grant for the project.
A new section of trail built last summer along Interstate 80 between Truckee and Reno is catching the eye of motorists and helping to garner new momentum for the project.
“We’re 75 percent done. It’s really come along very well,” Phillips said.
Contractors are now navigating a difficult boulder field. By August, they hope to open a new section near Farad, allowing cyclists to ride the entire canyon from Floriston to Verdi. Part of a larger route between Truckee and Reno, will mark the first safe, non-motorized route for pedestrians and cyclists between the two urban areas that bypasses dangerous freeways and railroad tracks.
Trail construction can cost anywhere from $5 to $500 per linear foot, depending on the terrain. Looking forward, private ranch lands and undeveloped swaths of desert land present challenges on the eastern side of the trail.
To date, volunteers have raised $1.2 million and added about 40 miles of new trails to the approximately 40 miles of trails in Truckee, Reno and Sparks already in place before the project started. With no paid staff and minimal overhead, 90 percent of donations go directly back to trails.
“It has gotten bigger and bigger. People love a winner,” said Phillips of the project that even non-trail users want to be involved with.
Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway is made up of a leadership team composed of 10 volunteer professionals and a crew of 60 to 80 other volunteers that help build trails, offer legal and accounting advice, or stuff envelopes.
“A lot of things don’t require a pick and shovel,” said Phillips.
Partnerships with other nonprofits like Truckee Donner Land Trust and Nevada Land Trust help to broker trail easements, while teaming up with cities like Truckee help to secure grant funding. One of the first government partners was Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, opening the first 24 miles of trail across the reservation in 2006.
An early section of the trail on the west side of Reno attracts up to of 200 cyclists a day. For beginners, Phillips recommends taking a five-mile section from Floriston to the beautiful Fleish suspension bridge.
Sections of the trail passing through the town of Truckee could someday connect with the proposed Pines to Mines Trail that will link the east side of Nevada County to Nevada City.
“In mountain communities, people move here exclusively to be in the outdoors. Trails are what they are looking for,” Phillips said.
Learn more about Tahoe Pyramid Bikeway, get updates about trail section openings, donate to the project and check out maps of various routes at: http://www.tpbikeway.org/index.php