New Caples boat ramp gets applause

Michael Raffety

Nov. 5, 2010

With Caples Lake so full that waves splashed over the edge of the spillway and the temperature a comfortable 75 degrees, three agencies gathered to pat themselves on the back for a job well done on the new boat ramp. Most remarked on what a wonderful day it was to spend a morning by an 8,000-foot-elevation lake.

At $2.6 million, of course, there is more there than a new boat ramp. It includes a large parking lot, landscaping, attractive toilet facilities and a new access road.

The marvel that has gained compliments and thank-yous is the “dry dock,” a handicapped ramp with two different height access points for someone to bring a boat alongside so a handicapped person can easily enter the boat while it is still attached to the trailer.

The bulk of the funding  — $1.6 million — came from the state Department of Boating and Waterways, which is funded from motorboat fuel taxes and registration fees. That paid for the boat ramp that was put in when the El Dorado Irrigation District had to draw down the lake to a small pond in 2008 so it could replace two worn out slide gates at the bottom of the dam.

The boat ramp extends out far enough that it can still be used when the lake level is too low to use the boat ramp at Caples Resort.

When the lake was drawn down the U.S. Forest Service was able to go out and do archeological work on the Caples cabin. When Mary Jane Walker Caples came over Carson Pass and West Pass into Summit Lake Valley in 1849 she liked it so much that she later came back and built a summer cabin. She struck gold when she made pies in Placerville, selling as many as 100 a day at $1 apiece. She and her husband James and daughter Isabella then raised cattle in the Sacramento Valley. Summit Lake was later named Twin Lakes. Because there were too many Twin Lakes in California the resort owner successfully petitioned in 1968 to change the name to Caples in honor of the Caples family, which lived in its cabin every summer for 30 years.

The Carson River Route is the highest pioneer wagon road in California and saw the most wagons. Carson Pass is 8,600 feet and West Pass is 9,600 feet, according to Frank Tortorich of the Forest Service.

The Forest Service was the primary project manager for boat ramp, parking lot and handicapped trails. It contributed $284,000. The El Dorado Irrigation District spent $600,000 on road improvement and access to the parking lot on the east end of the lake. EID was required to make the upgrade as a condition of its hydroelectric permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

After the boat ramp was built in the fall of 2008 contractor John Hagerty had to wait for the summer of 2009 to complete the parking lot and assorted facilities, wrapping it up this spring. The Forest Service’s funding was frozen by the chief of the Forest Service due to large expenses associated with firefighting in 2009, according to Doug Barber, Amador District ranger for the Eldorado National Forest. Barber, who started on the project as a Forest Service engineer and concluded it as an administrator, got a Forest Service road crew to start rough grading while the money was frozen. Once the money was released he turned it over to Hagerty.

Landscaping with native plants was done by EID, volunteers and Forest Service personnel.

“Thank you, El Dorado Irrigation District. The project turned out beautiful,” Barber said.

“It was not possible for me to envision how well it turned out,” said Steve Watanabe, division chief of the Department of Boating and Waterways. He and other department officials had toured the site before the work was done.

“The project came within budget and a year earlier than the department’s deadline),” Watanabe said. “It’s all part of collaborative teamwork.”

Skip Veatch from the Alpine County Board of Supervisors was pleased with the facility, pointing out that 96 percent of Alpine County is federally owned, so the county is very dependent upon tourism and fishermen. He pointed out that Alpine County law sets the speed limit on Caples Lake at 10 mph and asked that a sign be put up about the speed limit.

EID Parks and Recreation Superintendent Cheri Jaggers responded that the sign is on order and EID and the Forest Service have agreed on a location. EID has its own sign shop, according to district spokeswoman Deanne Kloepfer.

EID Board President John Fraser spoke last, noting that after negotiating with the Alpine County Board of Supervisors, “We kind of had to count the buttons on our shirts.”

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