Reserving their place at the lake
Twenty miles from Carson City’s defining Ormsby House and the state Capitol, and inches from Lake Tahoe’s crystalline waters, the Carson City sheriff’s presence is known.
The deputies may be in plainclothes, or they may be in full gear, their forest green shirts blending into the pines and their khakis matching the sand they trudge through on their regular Memorial Day-to-Labor Day patrols.
But they make a point to be there, even if their jurisdiction stretches a meager 4-1/2 miles of road and about 6 miles of coastline, none of which is accessible by road.
“You have to hike into all of them,” Reserve Cmdr. Tom Crawford said.
For the most part, the reserve-only patrols – reservists are unpaid but fully recognized deputies, leaving the paid ones to stay on the city streets – focus on the quality-of-relaxation tasks. They scope for glass bottles and peek into coolers to check for compliance, hoping to prevent cut feet at the out-of-the-way beaches, mediate disputes and scan for traffic violations.
When Crawford drove up to two armed men arguing – one was the hatchet-wielding “self-proclaimed mayor of Secret Cove” and the other a knife-waving trail walker who had apparently interfered with the mayor’s trailhead restoration – he calmed the men down and sent them on their way instead of escalating an incident he predicted never would have come to blows.
But seven years ago, before a U.S. Forest Service grant helped make it possible for the regular visits, the Carson City sliver of Tahoe shore was a more lawless place, Crawford said. Patrolling it just wasn’t cost-effective, he said.
“Before we had this contract, it had a reputation of ‘you can do anything you want’ because there aren’t ever police up there, so you can have a brawl and it will take 20 minutes to get up there, especially if they have to hike down.”
Crawford recalled fights at parties where teenagers knew that officers wouldn’t bother looking, and hikers going clothing-optional on their way to – and even having intercourse at – the secluded beaches that are still posted with signs warning of possible nudity.
“People were just partying anywhere,” he said. “(Nevada Highway Patrol) didn’t have any presence up there aside from a random drive through. Washoe (County deputies) had some cops in their area, but there wasn’t really anything in our area.”
Since then, it’s calmed down as the police presence increased, reservists said. Crawford and the deputies furrowed their brows to remember any major incidents in recent years. They came up with a battery some years back.
They said they generally turn a blind eye to the clothing-optional beaches – despite it being illegal in the state – as long as those who partake aren’t flagrant about it, opting instead to let the long-standing communities stand, albeit it with certain expectations.
“We don’t want an unexpecting 5-year-old German tourist to get an unexpected education,” Crawford joked.
Reserve Sgt. Matthew Helleckson even remarked on the camaraderie that’s formed among the nudists at the beach.
“It’s a whole community of them,” he said after coming back from strolling across their dunes Sunday. “They have potlucks, and comb the beaches and everything.”
On Sunday morning and early afternoon, most beachgoers – clothing optional and otherwise – greeted the patrolling deputies warmly, one joking about helping to carry a seized Heineken bottle back up the hill and another sparing no superlative for their vigilance about the glass. One man showed off the arrowheads he found nearby.
Crawford said they don’t seek to hurt the beach-going experience; instead, they prefer to issue warnings and confiscate contraband. Aside from the logistical issues of arresting someone at a beach head a half-mile hike from the road – imagine leading an intoxicated, sun-baked and handcuffed person in flip-flops up a hill – it’s also about maintaining the live-and-let live attitude of Tahoe, while still providing for public safety, Crawford said.
“The bottom line with this assignment is that it is the best job in the world,” he said. “This duty, it can’t be beat.”