Johnson Meadow is a spectacular 206-acre property located in the heart of South Lake Tahoe, California along the Upper Truckee River. Once private property used as a dairy during the gold rush and early 1900’s and as seasonal gazing pasture following the meadow was purchased by Tahoe RCD in April 2018. Thanks to funding provided by the California Tahoe Conservancy, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Tahoe Fund Johnson Meadow is now public land. The purchase completes public ownership of nearly the entire course of the Upper Truckee River from headwaters to Lake Tahoe providing the opportunity for ecological restoration, recreation, and community enjoyment.
Tahoe RCD is in the early stages of a comprehensive restoration planning effort. We are working with local, regional, and national partners as well as the Tahoe community to ensure a sustainable future for the meadow. Our goals are to restore the meadow to a more natural state to enhance habitat, watershed protection, climate change resilience, and sustainable recreation. We invite you to participate throughout the process!
Johnson Meadow is situated in the heart of the city of South Lake Tahoe in El Dorado County, California. It is located within the largest watershed in the Lake Tahoe Basin, the Upper Truckee River (UTR) watershed, which drains over 56 square miles and provides some of the most significant wet meadow floodplain habitat in the entire Sierra Nevada. Tahoe RCD acquired title to the approximately 206 acre property in April 2018, completing continuous public ownership of the lower nine miles of the Upper Truckee River. This reach of the UTR is directly downstream of property owned by the City of South Lake Tahoe and California Department of Parks and Recreation (Washoe Meadows State Park) and upstream of the Upper Truckee Marsh, owned by the California Tahoe Conservancy. Johnson Meadow is within the floodplain of the UTR and prior to acquisition by Tahoe RCD, it was the largest privately-owned meadow in the Lake Tahoe Basin. (insert map)
Why did Tahoe RCD Purchase Johnson Meadow?
Tahoe RCD purchased Johnson Meadow to provide ecosystem and watershed protection benefits through preservation, management, and future restoration of meadow, riparian, aquatic and upland habitats. Prior to acquisition, Johnson Meadow was used as a dairy during the Gold Rush (1850s) and was purchased in the 1920s by the Mosher family. The dairy operations ceased in the 1930s and the equipment was removed. From the 1930s to the early 2000s, the meadow was used as summer pasture for cattle. Acquisition of Johnson Meadow was a critical step in the larger restoration efforts in the UTR watershed. The river reaches encompassed by Johnson Meadow contain significant wildlife habitat including; river, riparian, meadow, and upland areas. Acquisition was made possible through funding from the California Tahoe Conservancy, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Tahoe Fund.
How do meadows in urban settings help protect the Lake Tahoe Basin’s environments?
Lake Tahoe watersheds are the natural drainage systems that supply the Lake with water. The precipitation that falls in the form of rain or snow within the watersheds of the Lake Tahoe Basin flows overland and through the ground to creeks and streams which ultimately discharge to the Lake. Runoff conveyed by an undisturbed watershed is usually quite pure, because the watershed’s soil, plants, and organisms act as a natural purification system. In fact, in an undisturbed forest, more than ninety-five percent of rain and snowmelt percolates into the ground, where it is filtered on its way to the nearest stream.
Acquisition of undeveloped, environmentally sensitive land (meadows, creeks and streams, highly erosive soils, and steep topography) ensures that they are protected and helps to mitigate the negative impacts of future development on Lake Tahoe’s watersheds. In addition, these areas can slow the flow of water from adjoining impervious surfaces and provide opportunities for construction of critical erosion control structures.
What activities are allowed in Johnson Meadow?
Johnson Meadow is public land and sustainable access and public use are permitted and encouraged. Please observe all El Dorado County ordinances and practice Leave No Trace principals and always pack out anything you brought in with you. There are a few important things to remember when using Johnson Meadow.
There is absolutely no camping allowed at any time, day or night, in Johnson Meadow.
Fires, use of gas, liquid, or solid fuel stoves is not allowed in Johnson Meadow at any time. Please observe all local fire restrictions concerning smoking on public lands.
Motorized vehicles, including over snow vehicles, are not allowed at any time in the meadow without official permission from Tahoe RCD.
When boating, floating, or accessing the river you are recreating at your own risk. River environments are inherently dangerous and not maintained for recreational access. It is your responsibility to be aware of all hazards and obstructions and you assume all risk of loss of property and/or serious injury, including death.
Please stay on established trails as much a possible to reduce impacts to the meadow.
Always clean up after your pet and keep all pets on leash and under control at all times.
What is the dog leash policy in Johnson Meadow?
Johnson Meadow is within the jurisdiction of El Dorado County and is therefore subject to the County Animal Control Ordinance Sec. 6.12.070. No person owning or having control of any animal, livestock or poultry shall permit such animal, livestock or poultry to stray or run at large upon any public street or other public place, or any unenclosed private lot or other unenclosed private place in the County with the exception of livestock on open range as defined in Chapter 6.36.
If a loose dog is acting strange, is aggressive or has bitten someone, call El Dorado County Animal Services (530) 573-7925, or after hours, call the Sheriff’s Dispatch at (530) 621-6600.
When will the bridge crossing be replaced?
Tahoe RCD understands that the loss of the bridge crossing over the Upper Truckee River in Johnson Meadow has broken a crucial connection and made non-motorized travel difficult. We are working diligently with El Dorado County, the California Tahoe Conservancy, and other partners to find a sustainable solution as fast as we can. It is important that any replacement accomplishes multiple goals and is done right otherwise we risk further delays or futures washouts. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the bridge:
When was the connection to the bridge washed out? The bridge connection was washed out in the winter of 2017 during a high runoff event following a very high snow year. The flow of water was blocked when debris backed up against the bridge and caused the water to chart a new course and erode a path through the western bank of the river, severing the bridge’s connection.
Why has the bridge not been replaced already? Prior to April 2018 the meadow and bridge crossing were under private ownership. The original bridge was built in the 1960s as ranch infrastructure, and subsequent upgrades over the years were never designed to accommodate public use. The land owner at the time allowed informal public access but never officially sanctioned public use of the bridge or the Johnson Meadow property. After acquisition by Tahoe RCD, temporary bridge replacement options were explored. However, the high cost and temporary nature of these options made any short-term replacement infeasible. In order to make sure any replacement does not wash out again and also meets all legal and community needs, Tahoe RCD and partners are engaging in a robust analysis process to determine the best location and bridge design for a crossing in this area. This is unfortunately a lengthy process. However, the time required will ensure that we get things right.
When will the bridge be replaced? While we can’t provide an exact date or timeline, we are working to install a replacement as soon as possible. The larger restoration project will affect bridge replacement and vice-versa but bridge replacement will likely happen much faster. Part of the process will be ensuring that any new bridge meets appropriate standards for both pedestrian and potential vehicle travel, safety and sustainability, and is in line with other local efforts such as the completion of the South Tahoe Greenway.