The power of philanthropy (Opinion)
Snow is falling. Holiday cheer is spreading. It is a time to celebrate and reflect on a great year. It was a special one for me, as I celebrated 10 years at the helm of the Tahoe Fund. When I first joined the organization, we were a good idea just beginning to come to life: the first and only nonprofit in Lake Tahoe dedicated to raising philanthropic dollars for environmental improvement projects.
Now, 10-plus years later, we have grown into a major source of funding for environmental projects around Lake Tahoe. We have raised more than $20 million from an incredibly generous group of donors, made up of individuals, foundations and local businesses. In turn, we have used these contributions to help secure over $60 million in public funding, and partnered with more than thirty organizations to complete 81 different projects.
Our project portfolio includes dozens of new and restored trails, removal of 20-plus acres of aquatic invasive species, restoration of watersheds in California and Nevada, micro-transit solutions to get people out of their cars, environmental education programs to inspire new stewards of Lake Tahoe, and innovative approaches to making our forests and communities more resilient to wildfire.
One of our favorite projects was working with donors and 13 fantastic partner agencies to bring the East Shore Trail to life. In 2014, we asked the community to donate to a vision of a new shared-use path that would provide access to the east shore. They responded immediately, helping us raise more than $1 million in just six weeks. Those private funds secured a $12.5 million federal grant and made the project happen. In 2019, when we opened the trail, we unveiled a donor wall featuring more than 700 names of supporters. Thanks to the continued support of the community, we installed a second wall this spring, bringing the trail’s donor total to 1,300 and counting. These new donors are providing much needed funding for the next phase of the trail from Sand Harbor to Spooner Summit.
In 2017, we helped the Tahoe Resource Conservation District and the California Tahoe Conservancy acquire Johnson Meadow, a 200-acre parcel in the heart of the Upper Truckee River. With support from our partners at Barton Health and Heavenly Mountain Resort, we contributed $100,000 that was then used to secure $8.2 million in state funds to ensure this critical piece of the most impaired watershed in Tahoe moved into public hands for future restoration.
This past May, we gathered at Edgewood Tahoe Resort to celebrate the completion of the first ever 72-mile scuba cleanup of Lake Tahoe as the divers from Clean Up The Lake emerged from the water amid a snow squall. This feat was made possible thanks to a $100,000 matching donation from Tahoe Blue Vodka, $25,000 from Vail Resorts and contributions from more than 135 individual donors. The dive team collected over 25,000 pounds of litter from beneath the surface of the Lake, and will be back in Tahoe this winter to hit some hot spots. This spring, we will install a sculpture made entirely of materials pulled from the Lake at the new Tahoe Blue Events Center in South Lake.
Of all of our focus-areas, none is a higher priority than forest health. This past year, we brought together a private company and the Washoe Tribe to build the first new sawmill within 10 miles of the Tahoe Basin in decades. This will have an immediate impact on the number of acres our agency partners can treat to help reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire. It will also create great economic opportunities for the Washoe Tribe. We are also excited to be providing scholarships to every student in the Lake Tahoe Community College’s new forestry program to help grow and diversify this critically understaffed workforce.
Right now, we are focused on raising the funds needed to build the spectacular new Meeks Ridge Trail on the west shore with our friends at TAMBA, and to create the new Ski Run Community Park in South Lake for thousands of local children. We also continue to raise funds for our Smartest Forest Fund and our Tahoe Trails Endowment, among other things.
As I look back on the past 10 years, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the way our community has continuously shown up to help us improve the Lake Tahoe environment for all to enjoy. Thousands of donors have brought real improvements to Tahoe that are ensuring a balance between the human and natural environments. And while I pause to reflect, I know our amazing board of directors and small but mighty staff are not. They are constantly focused on what else we can get done for Tahoe. I hope you will join us.
Amy Berry is the CEO of the Tahoe Fund.
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