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The Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway is complete through the Pyramid Reservation, but has miles to go before the entire 116-mile trail is completed.


Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway crosses Pyramid Indian Reservation land

THE TRUCKEE RIVER IS ONE OF ONLY A FEW rivers in the world that flows from one lake to another with no outflow to the ocean. It begins at forested Lake Tahoe, and flows 116 miles to its desert terminus, Pyramid Lake. Connecting these two lakes is the small, unique Truckee River, which has been the focus of water controversies, and the route of the Donner Party, the first transcontinental railroad, and the first cross-country auto route, the Lincoln Highway.

photo of river through desert

The Truckee River flows through two states, five counties, four cities,

lands of three federal agencies, and one Indian Reservation

In 2003, a project was launched to build a trail alongside the Truckee River, so that it could be enjoyed at ground level by cyclists, fishermen, hikers, and nature lovers. By connecting pre-existing trail segments, about one-half the total length of the project is already completed.

The Truckee River flows through two states, five counties, four cities, lands of three federal agencies, and one Indian Reservation. To bridge all these boundaries, a nonprofit organization was formed to spearhead the trail by working collaboratively with each jurisdiction along the route. Generally, the nonprofit team designs, permits, finances, and builds each trail section, then gives it to the local
government to own and maintain. Local government maintenance efforts are supplemented by the Bikeway’s Adopt-a-Trail volunteers.

The first Bikeway-government partnership was with the City of Reno and Nevada Department of Transportation. Other pending trail collaborations include: Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District, Bureau of Land Management, the State of Nevada, Bureau of Reclamation, The Nature Conservancy, and two counties.


The Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation contains the northernmost 26 miles of the Bikeway route within its boundaries. The Truckee River in particular is an inaccessible and unspoiled river that most non-tribal members have never seen. A narrow corridor along the river is bright green or yellow with cottonwood trees, in stark contrast to the sagebrush that extends to the horizon all around.

photo of people

During original trail alignment scouting, then-Chairman Norm Harry (left)

and Vice-Chairman Randy Tobey (right) helped Bikeway President,

Janet Phillips, identify a good route.

The partnership between the Tribe and the Bikeway has created a new way of visiting the Reservation and seeing a beautiful section of the Truckee River for the first time— by bike.


Like most tribes, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe is a sovereign government with power to approve land uses, environmental reviews, and trail use regulations. This effectively creates a one-stop shop for trail approvals, and made Tribal endorsement absolutely critical to the project.

The initial discussion of a trail alongside the Truckee River through “The Rez” (a nickname which a tribal leader coined) started in 2004 between Bikeway Founder, Janet Phillips, and Tribal Chairman, Norm Harry, who had a long-standing professional acquaintance relating to water resource issues. In 2005, Chairman Harry attended the ribbon-cutting celebration for a section of trail sponsored by the City of Reno, and saw potential benefits to the Tribe if a trail were built on the reservation. Soon after, the Chairman, Vice Chairman Randy Tobey, and two Bikeway representatives toured the reservation to scout trail routes.


photo of trail work

Compacting the trail surfacing material

Our time spent with Tribal leaders taught us two broad philosophical guidelines for developing the “Rez” trail:
• Provide low-impact tourism opportunities, and
• Minimize disturbance of Tribal land and artifacts.

Since the Pyramid Lake Tribe is not in the casino business, their goal is to foster other kinds of economic activity, including low-impact tourism. The Bikeway fits this tribal goal perfectly, making it a welcome proposal.

As more people learn about the trail, we and the Tribe expect that traffic will pick up and economic benefits will follow in permit and refreshment sales at the tribal store.

In order to minimize disturbance of tribal lands, the trail was located as much as possible on existing dirt roads and jeep tracks. The Rez trail is comprised of about 20 miles of shared-use dirt and paved roads and four miles of newly-built trail. This avoids the risk of unearthing artifacts while reducing construction costs. The downside is that some standard trail design parameters are not met, such as maximum gradient and side-slope contouring.


After touring the proposed alignment with the Chairman and Vice Chairman, a presentation was made to the full Tribal Council, which approved the trail unanimously and also agreed to maintain the trail. Since our primary trail funding source was the Recreational Trails Program, this was an important step to qualifying for the grant.

This was the full extent of formal documentation of trail approval: a letter from the Tribal Chairman ratified by a vote of the Tribal Council approving the development of the Bikeway on a specified alignment. No other government entities were involved.

Two years later, during the second phase of trail construction, we were forced to change the planned trail alignment in order to detour around a non-Indian landowner who refused access across its property. Because this change would require additional land disturbance, we went back to the tribe for approval, and found that a new administration had a more involved process for approval, involving a multi-disciplinary staff committee to review our proposed new alignment. In order to ensure that no artifacts were disturbed, the tribe’s cultural resources manager walked the new construction alignment with us, and in one location asked us to relocate the route.

photo of steps over fence

A stile— Steps over a fenceavoids problems with livestock on grazing land


While the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe has a distinctive setting and culture, there were many similarities to working with a small community in any rural area:

• The Tribe elects its council and chairman every two years, so a long-term trail project may need to be re-introduced to new decision-makers several times. The Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway has continued its Rez implementation through three tribal administrations.

• The Tribe has a small staff and budget, stretched thin over a large geographic area. Because of this, they could not commit to a large role in construction or maintenance, but were very helpful on an ad hoc basis when personnel and equipment were available.

• There are several constituencies within the Tribe, with different attitudes toward the trail. There are some pro-economic development members wanting to see more low-impact tourism which the trail will create, and others who are more traditional and don’t want outsiders cycling through their land. Like any elected government body, the Tribal Council had to balance these interests in approving the trail.

photo of man with earth mover

Pyramid Tribe member Stan Smith helped move gravel for trail construction

with the Tribe’s equipment.

• Due to the long residency of many tribal members and close-knit community character, personal relationships between trail proponents and tribal leaders can significantly help a project. The President of the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway had worked with the tribe on water resource issues for many years before the Bikeway was started, and had good rapport with many past and present tribal leaders. New relationships can also be developed, but it takes time.

There were two traits we found among the tribe members that seem to be different from our encounters with non-Indian landowners:

• A reluctance to say negative things about the trail. If they were unhappy with some feature, it was expressed very subtly and we had to listen carefully to understand what the problem was.

• A willingness to try something new and see how well it works, rather than refusing permission at the outset.


One of the most rewarding times in developing the “Rez” trail came from an Indian rancher whose pasture we needed to cross for about one-half mile. Despite the fact that he keeps cows and bulls in the pasture at various times of the year, he allowed the trail to go over his fence with the use of a stile, with just a small sign: “This is a working ranch— please use common sense.”

Another display of Tribal generosity was when we desperately needed water for soil compaction (this is the desert after all) and the manager of the Tribal fish hatchery allowed our volunteers to borrow the Tribe’s fish hauling truck to transport water to the construction site.

photo of trail work

to minimize disturbance of tribal lands, much of the trail was located

on existing dirt roads


The Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway is complete through the Pyramid Reservation, but has miles to go before the entire 116-mile trail is completed. It is our hope that a positive experience on the Rez will encourage other non-Indian landowners to allow the trail through their property. We also hope to return to the Rez with trail improvements and events to foster its use in the future. Our first “weed ’n’ ride” day was in September and our third almost-annual autumn “Ride the Rez” outing was in October, 2009. Happily, a former Tribal Chairman is a regular rider on the Bikeway.


Author Janet Phillips’ passion is the Truckee River and she has devoted the past five years of her life to spearhead the trail project.

Note from the author:

This article was written from my perspective of the past 5 years of working with the Tribe to establish a trail through their reservation. I hope I haven’t offended either the Tribe or my Bikeway colleagues, because without either of them we would never have succeeded!

For more information:

Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway
4790 Caughlin Parkway #138
Reno, NV 89519
Phone: (775) 825-9868



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