INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — When you think of recycling in Incline Village, you may also think of Madonna Dunbar. Since 2007, Dunbar has been working to make the community a greener, more environmentally friendly place.
As a resource conservationist with IVGID Waste Not, Dunbar oversees various recycling programs, as well as educating the young and old about environmental topics, from proper trash disposal and storage, keeping our water sources clean and bear awareness. Dunbar’s job requires her to wear many different hats, as one day she may be in a classroom, teaching kids about bear safety and proper trash storage, when the next day she’s in the field, checking trash bins to see if they work properly.
“This position is interesting and challenging because it does cover so many topics, from bear awareness to watershed protection,” Dunbar said.
Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., Dunbar moved out west in 1990. Her husband, Pablo Ortega, and herself were working in the National Parks program, in Sequoia National Park, but found themselves looking for something more.
“We loved the park, but not really our job there. We had a friend tell us we should go to Tahoe, so we did,” Dunbar explained. “We showed up here in 1998. Tahoe just welcomed us in. We had a place to stay right away, and jobs right away.”
Dunbar began working at Sierra Nevada College when she arrived in Incline Village, where she taught various photography and media classes.
Dunbar and Ortega left Tahoe in 2005 to backpack in Thailand, India and Indonesia. At that point, they didn’t think they would come back to Tahoe; however, their fate changed when the position Dunbar has now became open, and they returned to Tahoe in 2007.
“It was the third time I had applied for the job. Third time’s a charm,” she said. “That’s how I ended up coming back.”
One of her favorite parts of the job is going into the schools and community and educating people. Last school year, Dunbar and her staff worked with the student council of Incline Elementary School. Through their combined efforts, the school will no longer use Styrofoam food trays, a huge step toward cutting down waste in the schools.
“That’s one thing that excites me about this position. My ability to work in the community and help people achieve their goals,” Dunbar said. “If they want to know how to recycle better, we help them do that. If they want to know how to live more peacefully with the bears, we help them do that.
“That’s one of the things I really enjoy is teaching to a broader audience.”
Dunbar added that it’s rewarding to see kids get excited about recycling and environmental issues. Often when the children get excited, they will bring that enthusiasm home to their families, which is when change is made to a more green lifestyle.
One of the bigger parts of Dunbar’s job is working as the director of the Tahoe Water Suppliers Association, a group made up of the 12 water providers around Lake Tahoe that use the lake as drinking water. Under this position, Dunbar oversees the Drink Tahoe Tap campaign, which was started four years ago, that aims to decrease the number of people who drink bottled water around the basin. She added that drinking tap water is one of the easiest things you can do to help our environment.
“Living here has some unique responsibilities. It’s up to everybody to participate in helping to protect the beautiful environment we have here,” Dunbar said. “One of the things that always surprises me is when people go and buy bottled water. That’s one thing I definitely think people are starting to get.”
When she’s not working, Dunbar can be found swimming in the lake, practicing yoga, seeing live music and cross-country skiing in the winter. She’s visited all of states, with the exception of Alaska, as well as visiting 24 of the nation’s national parks. While she was working for National Parks, her and Ortega, her husband of 12 years, lived in an old Greyhound Bus, working in the parks during the summer, and traveling during the winter.
Dunbar added that there are events coming up that members of the community are invited to attend. The Lake Tahoe Shoreline Cleanup, on Saturday, Sept. 15, is part of an international day of shoreline clean up. Dunbar and the rest of her staff are encouraging local residents and visitors to attend to help keep Tahoe’s east shore beaches beautiful.