Meet Janet Phillips, Tenacious Leader of the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway

Posted 05/14/15 by Katie Harris in Building Trails, America's Trails

A future section of the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway

She’s tenacious. She’s convincing. And she’s here to build a trail.

Janet Phillips, president of the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway, doesn’t shy away from a challenge. During a full career working in water resources along the Truckee River in California, she noticed a missing component to the corridor along the river: a trail. And when she retired in 2001, Phillips had a little extra time to think about what an incredible asset a trail would be to the surrounding area.

So instead of wishing for one to appear, she took action. 

Patching together vague concepts and scribbled plans from visionaries that came before her, Phillips spent a full year evaluating route opportunities and conceptualizing what the final product would look like. After extensive research and site visits, she introduced her grand concept at a public meeting in the fall of 2003, and the vision was devoured by the audience. The possibility of the trail system was incredibly captivating, and folks were eager for Phillips’ vision to be turned into reality. Volunteers raised their hands, checkbooks opened, and she knew that project had significant momentum behind it.

Janet Phillips on the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway in California | Photo courtesy Jeff Ross

Today, the 116-mile trail connecting Tahoe and Pyramid lakes, the vision that Phillips dreamed up over a decade ago, is 75 percent complete. The trail will descend more than 2,000 feet from Lake Tahoe, the source of the Truckee River, nestled into the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada range, to Pyramid Lake, the high-desert, geographic sink of the Truckee River Basin.

Nearly every type of organization and agency has had a voice in the trail-building discussion, and the coordination and collaboration of the Tahoe Pyramid Bikeway is a huge feat, especially for a project being run by a single individual. But if anyone can handle it, it’s Phillips.

“I had worked with many of these people over the course of my career ... So it was easy to establish a relationship for the trail-building work.”

There are two things that Phillips attributes to her effectiveness in the trail building process, both early on, and today. The first: her existing work relationships with many professionals along the corridor. “I had worked with many of these people over the course of my career,” Phillips states. “So it was easy to establish a relationship for the trail-building work.”

The second? Tenacity. “This whole thing takes a lot of persistence,” she says. Phillips has never let a roadblock in the process turn into a dead end. The trail must move forward, and she’ll find a way to make that happen.

Volunteers are credited with helping to make the development of the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway possible. | Photo by Janet Phillips

With Phillips at the helm, the all-volunteer, nonprofit organization Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway continues to charge ahead. But as all trail developers know…to make things happen on the ground, there is a considerable amount of planning, engineering and consulting that needs to happen before hand. So who lends a hand?

According to Phillips, she has reached out to dozens of professionals in the area to ask for help, and luckily, she’s convincing!  She acknowledges the hard work many qualified and passionate professionals who have pitched in and donated their skills—pro bono. “When I’m working full time for nothing, it makes it easier to approach other professionals and ask them to donate their time and expertise,” notes Phillips.

With an army of volunteers, a substantial amount of collaboration and more grit than can be imagined, a vision is becoming an award-winning trail that connects communities and provides amazing opportunities for area residents and visitors alike. The trail movement is incredibly fortunate to have determined trail builders like Janet Phillips, and who knows! Maybe a youngster riding on the Tahoe Pyramid Bikeway today will become the next tenacious trail builder of tomorrow.

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