One man's "impossible dream" became a reality Saturday afternoon at the Brockway Overlook on California's east side high above Lake Tahoe.
The dream - creation of a 150-mile trail looping Lake Tahoe - was that of retired Forest Service Ranger Glenn Hampton, who first conceived of the Tahoe Rim Trail more than 20 years ago.
The dream was shared by more than 10,000 volunteers who labored 20 years to carve the trail over mountains, across meadows, around ravines and through deep forests.
Hampton, who now lives in upstate New York, left the Tahoe area before work began on the trail and Friday was the first time he set foot on the path.
A gathering of more than 300 onlookers who had hiked from a Forest Service road to the overlook applauded as Hampton recalled the early days of his "impossible dream."
"When I was a recreation ranger in Tahoe I discovered that only 30 percent of the basin had hiking trails. I decided to change that and assembled an advisory board to bring it about. I retired before work started but I knew that board would bring the Tahoe Rim Trail into reality.
"Yesterday when I was hiking along the trail between manzanita and pines, I realized that the vision I had so many years ago had come true. I wanted the trail to let light on the land and to offer vistas to the eye. And those 10,000 volunteers, with the help of Forest Service and Nevada Park trail crews, had truly let light on the land."
Hampton noted that at the time he had proposed the trail the Forest Service was starved for funds, so he decided to make it a purely voluntary effort. "Funding, work crews - everything was voluntary."
How did he feel when he set foot on his "impossible dream?" "It was wonderful, wonderful."
Sen. Harry Reid, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate and a long-time backer of the trail, had been scheduled as keynote speaker, but the emergency session of Congress as a result of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., forced him to cancel.
Opening the celebration was the president of the Rim Trail Advisory Board, Bob Wolf who, among other things, welcomed a group of 18 backpackers who had been the first to trek the Rim Trail over two weeks. They arrived disheveled but happy - hailing their epic hike as a time that created a new "family."
Hampton read from a letter he had written years ago to describe what he wanted the trail to be. "You meander through areas rich in history, where some of the West's first Basque sheepherders roamed through the mountain meadows over 100 years ago with their flocks.
"You wade through waist-high grass, through magnificent stands of red fir and Jeffrey pine and alongside cool mountain streams. The trail wanders through old Washoe hunting grounds and long vanished game trails, as well as trails made by early settlers ... You may journey high above mysterious places with names like "Hellhole," with its many pools and ground that sways and shakes. You skirt the largest bog in the Sierra at Grass Lake and most of the time you are able to view the largest Alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe. On the horizon, the Pine Nut Range in Nevada, the Sierra of California and Carson Valley. You travel through six counties, three National Forests, two states. This is the dream of the Tahoe Rim Trail."
As Hampton concluded one spectator congratulated him on the achievement "Don't congratulate me," he said, "congratulate those 10,000 volunteers."
A gala dinner was to be held Saturday night at Harrah's Lake Tahoe to complete the celebration.