Tahoe too appealing for some retreat organizers | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe too appealing for some retreat organizers

Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune

When Juan Palma first came to Tahoe, he had such an emotional reaction to Fallen Leaf Lake the environmentalist said he nearly cried. The former executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is not alone.

The creative inspiration is one reaction visitors and locals share. So it may come as a surprise the camp that services more than 3,000 Stanford University alumni and their families each summer and other groups in the spring and fall has a bit of an image problem — even though it has been in existence for more than a half century.

“There’s this misconception that Tahoe is not a serious business environment,” said Nancy Marzocco, Stanford Sierra Conference Center sales and marketing director.

Two state groups which booked the 20-acre camp this fall canceled their retreats. The loss of the Caltrans and the state Department of Water Resources bookings eliminates about a $100,000 chunk of the camp’s $1.2 million in projected revenues for this year.

Caltrans intended to send its Landscape Architecture Academy. The group came two years ago for a retreat. Blame was placed on the California budget crisis, Marzocco said.

Dave Bunnett, CEO of Stanford Sierra Programs, appealed to the state transportation director to reconsider the resort. Caltrans District Director Jeff Morales refused to explain why his department didn’t come to the South Shore.

“I understand that one concern is that Tahoe is misperceived as an expensive resort area where state agencies under tight budget constraints cannot afford to have meetings. The fact is that Stanford Sierra Conference Center offers affordable, competitive rates, lower than many urban destinations,” Bunnett wrote to Morales on Aug. 29.

He also reminded Morales of the added benefit the Fallen Leaf resort provides as a getaway minus the distractions.

“It seems like most groups have a real appreciation for the environment,” Marzocco said, strolling the grounds. She worked at the camp, which was founded by Stanford alumnus Harriet Price Craven, for four years.

The early morning calm Thursday prompted a few people in canoes to break the glassy surface of the lake. A lone chair was placed in front of the lake. A group gathered to prepare for a Gilmore Lake hike.

“We obviously come up here because it’s an idyllic place where you can appreciate nature,” said Eric Kintzer of Menlo Park, a Stanford alumnus.

Some people lounged at the Main Lodge tables to leisurely enjoy a hefty breakfast of waffles, melon and eggs. Others gathered in two of the three conference rooms. The Cathedral Room comes with audio-video equipment including a giant screen and a stone fireplace some groups have used for fireside chats. It overlooks the lake.

The Old Lodge — built in 1932 — gives visitors a rustic experience, with hanging lamps made out of logs, snowshoes above the large stone fireplace and a high A-frame ceiling.

Groups have cited the remoteness as a reason to have retreats at the Stanford Sierra Camp’s 52 cabins and dozen rooms in the Main Lodge.

Retailers Outdoor Industry has reserved conference space since 1995. This year the Asheville, N.C.-based outdoor networking company opted to go to Snowbird, Utah, because it’s bigger.

“It was great (at the camp), but I wish I had a bigger facility. What I wanted was a place to showcase the products,” events manager Dave Matz said.

He fielded a few complaints from buyers and sellers about the distance to and from the Reno/Tahoe International Airport and the lack of telecommunication connections.

“But, for me, what that meant to me was people were out talking to each other. If you go to a bigger city, you’re going to have more distractions, and that wasn’t what I was after,” he said.

The resort has since added a business center with Internet access.

Marzocco said she’s aware of cutbacks in business travel and the need for more space among those who do go outside the office for training.

“A lot of times the travel and training (budgets) are the first to go with corporate and government groups,” she said.

The camp accommodates 180 visitors. Marzocco has seen firsthand the need for a convention center in South Lake Tahoe.

“On the South Shore, there’s nothing big. I definitely think the convention center is a great idea for groups of 500 or more,” she said. The city faces a January deadline for the final development agreement with the private sector for a convention center in the Stateline area.

Beyond groups seeking a Tahoe retreat, Stanford Sierra Camp has also hosted local groups such as the Barton Healthcare Foundation, Kiwanis Club and Lake Tahoe Community College.

The camp — which employs 35 people –closes in winter.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com

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