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New Historic Underwater Trail Opens in Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay

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lake tahoe underwater trail

On Monday, October 1, the state of California opened the Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail - an underwater showcase of Lake Tahoe’s historic sunken watercraft and barges.

The bay is the final resting place of several recreational boats, launches, and barges used on the lake during the early 20th century. These boats were likely intentionally scuttled (sunk) in the 1950s when they outlived their usefulness. Nowadays, they serve as reminders of the golden age of recreation in Tahoe. This collection is the largest, most diverse group of sunken small watercraft of its kind, in their original location, known to exist in the nation.

The trail features four dive sites, three of which have never been revealed before. Each site has an underwater interpretative panel, explaining the history of the vessels. The informational cards will also be available at the park’s visitor centers, local dive shops, online here, and on the Sierra State Parks Foundation’s website.

California State Parks

The Barge Dive Site, located off the southeastern shore of the bay, was initially established in 1998. The site consists of two barges, built of massive Ponderosa pine timbers, sitting at a depth between 10 to 40 feet (3-12 meters) below the surface. The barges were owned and operated by the lumber companies, that used them to haul cordwood part of the year and then employed them as car ferries during the summer months. Since the barges had no means of propulsion, they were either towed or pushed by steamers. The southernmost barge, lying parallel to shore, represents the more complete of the two and measures over 100 feet (30.5 meters) long. This site is accessible to both and scuba divers and snorkelers.

Along with the two large barges, the Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail includes two fishing boats and a 27-foot long launch. The launch represents the oldest boat in the collection. It was built in 1915.

There is also a collection of small vessels that were likely sunk at their moorings, 30 to 60 feet below the surface just offshore of Boat Camp. The collection includes a metal kayak, day sailor, rowboats, and motorboats.

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