Tahoe Has a New Underwater Trail

Posted by Brooke Sullivan on Friday, September 28th, 2018 at 10:01am

In just two weeks, one of Lake Tahoe’s greatest secrets will be unveiled.

At the bottom of Emerald Bay are the sites of more than a dozen sunken vessels. California State Parks will open an underwater trail to four sites in Emerald Bay leading visitors through a boat graveyard. Take a boat and peer down into the wreckage dating back from the 1920s and ‘30s. State park divers found two large barges and a dozen recreational boats, including a vintage 27-foot launch. Denise Jaffe is the associate state archaeologist who headed up the project and a scuba diver who helped develop it.

This is the largest and most diverse group of sunken small watercraft of their type in their original location. The trail will be called the “Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail”. On September 28, state park dive team members broadcasted an underwater tour with live video and audio on the Facebook page for Emerald Bay State Park and the Sierra State Parks Foundation website.

The trail opens officially to the public on October 1.

There are three dive shops between Reno and Carson City that offer certification for high-altitude, cold-water dives and you can even take a trip to Lake Tahoe to learn the best sites from a divemaster. The costs are $50 per dive and $175 for two dives with tanks and weights.

“It would be an amazing opportunity to see a shipwreck in Lake Tahoe,” said Shannon Costly of the Tahoe Dive Center. She said she started diving 10 years ago and called venturing into Lake Tahoe’s underwater world “life changing. It’s the clearest lake I’ve ever been in. You can see almost 100 feet in front of you.”

The wrecks are anywhere between 10 to 60 feet below the surface so that makes it possible to catch glimpses from a boat, but not always. One of the barges is usually pretty visible, but it can be hit and miss with the other crafts. Tahoe’s water clarity peaks in early fall during runoff and diminished wind/boat activity so that the lake is more settled. The five-year average for clarity at Lake Tahoe is about 70 feet, according to the Tahoe Environmental Research Center in UC Davis. However, Emerald Bay has a high concentration of suspended sediments and isn’t as clear as the rest of the lake.

The sites are only accessible by boat and you definitely need to know where to look. Waterproof interpretive cards are available for divers with GPS locations and available at the park’s visitor center, local dive shops and online at the park’s website. There are also underwater interpretive panels at four dive sites in Emerald Bay. Non-divers can also nab the GPS coordinates to stare down into the depths.

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