Lake Tahoe and Truckee ask travelers to become stewards of the setting, no matter how long their time here.
Lake Tahoe’s natural beauty needs our help. Most of us moved here for the awe-inspiring setting, yet the stewardship of its environmental health often falls on the shoulders of the U.S. Forest Service and local nonprofits. But even their collective efforts are coming up short as more people discover the splendor of the region. The newly instated Lake Tahoe-Truckee’s Traveler Responsibility Pledge, a follow-up to South Lake Tahoe’s Pledge for the Wild, helps fill in the gaps by asking every visitor and resident to chip in. Liz Bowling, a spokesperson for the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, said people don’t necessarily want to do the wrong thing and just need guidance about eco-friendly practices.
“First-time visitors might place their trash next to a bin if it’s full. They think they’re doing the right thing, but trash can harm wildlife,” she said, regarding a consistent problem that’s an easy fix with the new initiative.
“Signage notifies people to text a number for a service to empty the bin.” The six tenets of the pledge are simple:
Businesses, homeowners, hotels and community organizations are all getting on board to spread the word and do their part. Just as Covid gave individuals pause about how they want to reposition their lives, communities are taking a deeper look at how they can protect and preserve natural surroundings.
“Everything we do now is through the lens of responsible travel and how it impacts nature and full-time residents,” said Bowling.
Jesse Patterson, Chief Strategy Officer for the League to Save Lake Tahoe, expects the pledge and greater environmental awareness in general will increase volunteer participation in 2021.
“I see environmental stewardship exploding in a good way, and it will become part of visitors’ Tahoe adventure,” he said.
Voluntourism also lies at the core of Clean Up the Lake, a nonprofit founded by PADI rescue diver and film and tv director-producer Colin West. His large-scale undertakings depend on citizens for beach cleanups, as well as certified scuba divers, free divers, snorkelers and marine surface support from kayakers to jet skiers for submerged lake pollution cleanups. After removing nearly 5,200 pounds of trash from Donner Lake during the 2020 Scuba Clean Up, among many projects, the 72-Mile Scuba Clean Up for Lake Tahoe commenced in May. Volunteer crews will spend three days a week for six months to complete the job.
“More than removing trash, we’re recording and tracking it to identify the root of the problem and fix it forever,” said West.
Not everyone sees below the surface like West. For the pledge to work, mass public education and community outreach are required of resources like UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center in Incline Village, Nev. Education and outreach director Heather Segale has watched in amazement as people buy bottled water filled down valley when Tahoe’s tap water comes from the apex of the watershed. TERC aims to correct this wasteful behavior and other common oversights.
“It’s a tough battle, because sometimes what’s right and better for us and the earth isn’t as convenient,” said Segale, who urges locals and visitors to learn more about Tahoe’s environment when TERC’s director delivers the annual State of the Lake report on July 29.
Sherry McConkey, founder of the Shane McConkey Foundation for positive change, said a lot of young people already abide the pledge’s tenets. She sees their commitment firsthand during the annual Shane McConkey EcoChallenge, for which individual children and school classes submit projects to win $22,500 in prize money. Entries range from a budding entrepreneur who sells toy kits made from recycled materials online to sisters who collected litter around Donner Lake and raised $10,000 for trash signage. McConkey hopes there isn’t a repeat of last summer’s litter left by nature seekers who came in droves.
“The pledge is a good message. Let’s hope people hear it,” she said.