Parking at Lake Tahoe's clothing optional beaches will be slimmer this summer than in previous years.
The Nevada Department of Transportation has removed many of the roadside parking spaces along Route 28 on Tahoe's east shore, where most of the nude beaches are located.
NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder said the spaces were eliminated as part of an $11 million improvement project along the scenic byway.
"There are going to be all kinds of problems when it gets crowded," said North Swanson of Tahoe Area Naturists, or TAN, a group of beach users fighting to protect access to the clothing-optional beaches. Swanson said NDOT's recent work has removed as much as 85 percent of roadside parking.
One study conducted by a consultant estimated 25,000 people visit the east shore beaches each year. Many park on the highway shoulder, a practice officials say is unsightly, contributes to erosion and is dangerous on the narrow, twisting roadway.
NDOT, the Nevada Highway Patrol and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency have been trying to find a better way to allow beach access.
Since 1996, those agencies - along with beach users, the Forest Service and environmentalists - have attempted to agree on ways to reduce roadside parking without removing easy public beach access.
Plans to expand existing parking lots have stalled while NDOT's recent highway improvements resulted in what most parties always said they wanted to avoid - removal of the roadside parking without any effective alternatives in place.
"We're probably as frustrated as everybody else is," said Richard Wiggins, a transportation specialist with the TRPA. "I'd say it's been very difficult."
Wiggins said TRPA officials will monitor parking practices along the highway this summer.
Rochelle Nason of the League to Save Lake Tahoe said she remains convinced that hauling people to the beaches on a transit system remains the best answer and is far superior to expanding parking lots or building new ones.
"If people can be brought in by transit, it might not make sense to add parking," Nason said, adding that she believes eliminating "environmentally damaging and dangerous" parking along the highway shoulders is a positive development.
An experimental shuttle bus service in 1997 took people on weekends to the beaches from parking areas in Incline Village and at Spooner Summit. The program met with limited success, hauling about 500 riders that summer.
There are no current plans or funding for another transit operation serving the east shore beaches, officials said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)