Partnering for destination stewardship at Lake Tahoe (Opinion)
Lake Tahoe means many things to many people. It is at once the cultural home of the Washoe, a natural wonder, an expansive recreation area for residents and visitors, an economic center, and a collection of communities that share this giant blue gem with each other and the world. These meanings and the desires that come with them are often in balance, but tensions have been growing in the Tahoe Region.
Like many outdoor recreation communities, the pandemic exacerbated challenges that were already on the rise. Changes in Tahoe’s economy, rising interest in outdoor recreation, hotter temperatures and growing populations in areas within a short driving distance, and a crisis of affordable and workforce housing have necessitated urgent action.
These tensions and a desire to create a sustainable future for Tahoe have brought an unprecedented collaboration of organizations together for a new approach to recreation and tourism management in the region. Seventeen partner organizations, most of whom have been working together since before the COVID-19 pandemic, spent the past year-and-a-half collecting community and stakeholder input to create the first Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan to address the future of tourism and outdoor recreation. Earlier this week, these organizations gathered to sign an agreement forming the Destination Stewardship Council and setting the plan into action.
This partnership evolved around a simple vision and purpose: Lake Tahoe’s communities and economy are rooted in recreation and tourism, touching the lives of all who work, live, and play here. The region must come together to create a shared destination stewardship plan to ensure Tahoe remains a cherished place, welcoming to all, where people, communities, and nature benefit from a thriving tourism and outdoor recreation economy.
Under this vision, four main goals or pillars were developed to guide this work. The first is to foster a thriving tourism and recreation-based economy that gives back to the community by visibly improving quality of life and addressing community concerns. The second is to turn this shared vision into shared action by establishing Tahoe’s first destination stewardship council to collaboratively guide the actions of the plan. Third, the plan will advance a culture of caring for Tahoe. Throughout the community engagement process, it was crystal clear that the top priority for all stakeholders is taking care of Tahoe’s environment, and the plan will help the region develop an ethos of taking care to ensure recreation doesn’t impact communities and the environment.
The final pillar underpinning this work is to improve the Tahoe experience for all. Together, member organizations will improve infrastructure and visitor management, reduce litter, and support transportation and parking improvements, especially at recreation hotspots. Unified stewardship messaging will provide clear expectations for anyone using public lands and address unwanted behaviors.
It was important to ensure the plan was thoroughly grounded in the community’s vision. Collectively, public engagement sessions, discussion groups, in-depth interviews and a resident survey gave more than 3,900 Tahoe area residents and visitors opportunities to contribute direct input into this plan.
Lake Tahoe is not alone in these challenges. Before the pandemic, global tourism had become one of the world’s largest industries, supporting the livelihood of an estimated one in 10 people worldwide. Here in Tahoe, the visitor economy with a $5 billion impact has undeniable importance. Yet nearly 90 percent of the Tahoe Basin is public land where open and equitable access connects people with the outdoors and provides benefits that cannot be measured. To safeguard the Tahoe experience for all, we are committed to harnessing the visitor economy in ways that benefit the environment and quality of life.
This summer, visitors and residents at Tahoe will see destination stewardship program already at work. Key programs include Take Care ambassadors at recreation sites and trailheads, expanded litter clean-ups, solar compacting trash cans, and coordinated stewardship education campaigns focused on visitors and outdoor recreation users. In the immediate term, the focus will be on building the capacity of the destination stewardship council, including securing funding and staffing to facilitate implementation and communications of the plan.
Beyond our immediate actions, Lake Tahoe needs you. As the work of the plan unfolds, its success hinges upon the continued engagement and commitment of all stakeholders working together in pursuit of a shared vision for the Lake Tahoe Region. Everyone has a role to play taking care of Tahoe. Thank you for joining our efforts. Learn more about the Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan at stewardshiptahoe.org.
Amy Berry is CEO of the Tahoe Fund, Carol Chaplin is President and CEO of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, Tony Karwowski is President and CEO of the North Tahoe Community Alliance, Julie Regan is Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and Erick Walker is Forest Supervisor for the USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
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