Cleaning Up Tahoe, One piece at a time… |

Cleaning Up Tahoe, One piece at a time…

Lisa Marsh

Picking up litter may not be glamorous but to those working with the Clean Tahoe Program it is beautiful.

“This job has exploded since we’ve been with it,” Sandra Belstler, program assistant, said.

The Clean Tahoe Program began as a part-time summer litter removal program nine years ago. Now the program maintains 350 linear miles from Tahoma to Stateline to the bottom of Luther Pass. As a non-profit organization, Clean Tahoe works with city and county governments, United States Forest Service, California Coastal Commission and the public. The program receives a portion of residential refuse fees and county parcel fees for base funding, grants and donations make up the difference.

“We try to get people from the community to become volunteers,” Belstler added. “We are always working with kids, the probation department and youth probation.”

Daily duties include answering calls about illegal dumps, routine tours of neighborhoods, responding to garbage in yards, and snow removal at bus stops. Benches and recycling containers at bus stops are maintained daily and have been a great success in litter reduction.

“When people see a container, they will walk over and throw away the garbage,” she said.

The program works with the California Coastal Commission on Coastal Cleanup Day. Schoolchildren and volunteers comb Tahoe’s beaches for cigarette butts and the like. Two diving teams work underwater to pull debris out of the water. Items found include cans of bug repellent, paper plates and an engine block from a Volkswagen. Cigarette butts are by far the most prevalent.

“You can’t keep track of the count, it was horrendous,” Belstler said. “Thousands come out of our beaches every year.”

Another annual event, Community Cleanup Day is scheduled May 16. Residents can clean up their yards, houses, and garages for a dumping fee of $5 a carload. South Tahoe Refuse makes this possible, and Clean Tahoe pays the difference in the dumping fees. This activity is meant to foster personal pride in homes and neighborhoods.

“We get a lot of satisfaction in the job we do,” Stan Burton, Acting Program Manager said. “South Lake Tahoe has been recognized as one of the cleanest vacation communities of its kind.”

Clean Tahoe relies heavily upon volunteer efforts and donations. Donations can take the form of recycling in Clean Tahoe’s name at South Tahoe Refuse and neighborhood representatives are needed. For those who want to help, but lack the resources, simply keeping an area 30 feet on either side of your property line can help make a difference.

“If someone sees a piece of paper across the street from their house, Instead of just looking at it and wondering why it’s there … just pick it up,” Burton said.

Though Belstler and Burton acknowledge that litter is an ongoing problem, they share a positive attitude. Both say that Tahoe is a different town than it was years before the program was started. Clean Tahoe fills in the blanks between city and county jurisdictions, while working closely with environmental and government agencies.

“South Tahoe is ahead of its time in the litter area,” Belstler added.

For more information about becoming a neighborhood representative or volunteering, call (530) 544-4210.

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