July 26, 1997: President Clinton issued an executive order to protect natural, recreational, and ecological resources in the Lake Tahoe Region (Executive Order 13057). Many entities were formed from that moment who have been working hard to regain and sustain the 100 ft of water clarity (we currently hover around 60ft) by providing the relentless and expensive (in the Billions) 24/7 maintenance services required to protect our designated National Treasure and world class destination. Part of this effort has included paying experts (usually hired through government issued RFPs - Request For Proposals) who come from outside the watershed. The consultant's task is usually to guide stakeholders (local business, government, nonprofits and the public) in creating shared visions and plans for tourism hosting, transit, infrastructure, housing, recreation and sustainable prosperity. One challenge has been the difficulty in having dedicated ongoing teams to actually sort and implement the wealth of public/private insight and promise resulting from decades of these efforts. While much has been accomplished, our fragile ecosystem is still straining under the weight of growing tourism demand.
Therefore, the concerned and generous people at: TRPA (Tahoe Regional Planning Agency), the Tahoe Fund, Tahoe Visitor Authority, Chamber of Commerce and USFS (United States Forest Service) have issued a new RFP: A 2021 Tourism Initiative to hire a Sustainable Travel Consultant team to guide local stakeholders in the creation of ”Lake Tahoe Future of Tourism Shared Vision & Destination Stewardship Roadmap"
The funding partners have received eight proposals from Sustainable Travel Consultants ready to guide local stakeholders to move maybe more aggressively in adopting sustainability principles that could encourage a more responsible travel experience and result.
At the same time this effort is about to start, two local universities are merging: University Nevada Reno /UNR and Sierra Nevada University SNU (located in Incline Village) are becoming one larger entity. The SNU location will most likely become the 'Tahoe campus' offering environmental programs, which is ideal since UC Davis, also located on SNU campus, is the epicenter for Tahoe's world class Limnology research and programs.
Al Gore, at the 2013 Tahoe Executive Summit said, “The future will look at this Lake and either ask, ”Why didn’t you do something?…or How did you do this? If we succeed in protecting Lake Tahoe our answer will be because we found a way to make political collaboration a renewable resource”
What how might this moment in time respond to Al Gores call for political collaboration?
Sustainable Tahoe was formed to accelerate the adoption of Geotourism (destination stewardship) in the Tahoe basin. Since 2007 our volunteer team has facilitated various demonstrations, implementation templates and frameworks to create and enroll visitors in fun, meaningful activities that sustain or enhance the destination.
Given what many would consider the climate emergency we are now in, we, once again, see an opportunity to connect incoming expertise with ongoing dedicated students eager to learn and apply new strategies in a world they will inherit. Both efforts are (mostly) public funded, therefore influenced by the political will of federal, state and local leadership. Thus a chance to make political collaboration a renewable resource.
This proposal involves the creation of a Sustainable Tourism Pilot Program at the Tahoe campus of the newly formed university. The program would leverage the expertise of the (public funded) Consultant Team to guide (public funded) SNU/UNR Tahoe-based students, on how to test, apply and accelerate the adoption of new sustainable hosting protocols. Many of the RFP tasks could become student assignments. (ex: analyzing visitor data points and then assessing and defining visitor hosting protocol and activities conducive to sustaining Lake Tahoe). This way the 'Shared Vision Roadmap' is co-created by the generation inheriting the long term results.
This Pilot Program could then evolve into a Sustainable Tourism Certification or Masters Degree. Our new certified sustainability students then become the ongoing dedicated team to co-design, deliver and implement the desires of a Responsible Travel Roadmap. Students in this learn-by-doing course would now have a degree, resume and field experience leading to new careers now warranted to ensure this roadmap becomes a reality (like: 'Chamber of Stewardship', 'Biodiversity Officer', 'Responsible Travel Manager').
A climate emergency requires education innovation. This means rethinking the timeline between entering college and entering the workforce. Our country was built on apprenticeship and in some areas, field experience prepares a person more than a degree - but what if you could have both in the time it would take to have one? And now that we can self-educate online...why accrue lifelong debt sitting in a classroom? The rare and precious opportunity here is a classroom sitting in a fragile watershed, overwhelmed by tourists still responding to a 20th century hosting strategy that desperately needs a transformation (and a better 'grade'...FYI: Lake Tahoe scored a C- in National Geographic 'Destination Scorecard' of the Top 100 world destinations).
Applied Learning or Community Based Learning courses are now being offered at Evergreen and Barstow College. UC Davis classes are held in the lab of the lake and have environmental courses ready to drop into a Sustainable Tourism Major. SNU already has Resort Mngt and Business Majors, but its hard to imagine a Tahoe economy without an "eco-onomy" first.
Sustainable Tourism is a growing major offered in universities around the world, which is redefining tourism roles in destinations by creating new sustainability career paths. Another advantage is other colleges in the watershed could be connected, working together to learn and APPLY sustainable strategies of the Shared Vision roadmap in the Tahoe Truckee watershed (all gateways, county's, states and communities that share this water).
Students with fresh minds ready to learn and create a sustainable visitor menu and hosting protocol that makes it "Cool to Care"...will not hesitate to look around and leverage the wealth of insight gained in decades of consultant driven public engagement events to support a Sustainable Tahoe, if 'political collaboration can become a renewable resource'.
As a world class destination, we all (locals and business) have a responsibility to lead-by-example for the lake, wildlife, locals and visitors. The world is watching to see if Tahoe will indeed embrace and implement this 'responsible travel' mission... even after the consultants have left.
Core to my Geotourism mission is highlighting Tahoe people, places and businesses that lead by example. This means they adopt the 12 geotourism principles that define sustainable tourism. Craig Olson's transformation of Tunnel Creek Station is an example of Geotourism excellence. And, since I live a mile away, watching the series of unforeseen events that evolved this emergence, makes it even more rewarding.
A 1950 TV show Bonanza, set in a fictional town called Ponderosa lead to the creation of a western town set turned theme park at Tunnel Creek. Lorne Greene's son Chuck, who used to live here, donated Bonanza memorabilia to the Incline Village Tahoe Historical Society during the 1980 and 90's, which Craig played a significant part supporting.
1983, local climber and cyclist Max Jones discovers and begins clearing structure debris leftover from a 1850's water flume that once moved lumber along the edge of the mountain, from Spooner to Tunnel Creek. In early 2000's, buzz about this new epic Flume Trail ride, created a need for a bike hosting hub. Sand Harbor Parks agreed to rent space in Spooner Park near the trailhead. Max then built the business that could rent, repair bikes and shuttle riders back to the park after their ride, which ended at Tunnel Creek. As ridership grew (exponentially), the Park tripled his rent, and Max was replaced by a corporation ready to cash in.
In 2006 Craig Olson purchased the front 5 acres of the Ponderosa Ranch site which included the old Tunnel Creek Station building (which had sat vacant for decades, sometimes used for storage) at Hwy 28 right where the Flume Trail ride ended at Tunnel Creek Trail trailhead.
Craig, who was good friends with Max, a supporter of Flume Bikes and had been following the events closely, offered to remodel the Tunnel Creek Station into a cafe to serve Flume cyclists at the end of their ride before they shuttled back to Spooner. As riders realized Max had relocated, they started parking at Tunnel Creek, then take the shuttle to Spooner and finish the ride at the Cafe where their car was now parked. This re-routing opened up even more opportunities to serve riders, as shuttles could drop them at Spooner or Mt Rose and they finish at Tunnel Creek. So Craig allocated space for Flume Bikes rental and shuttle service next to the Cafe. In 2015, construction of the the East Shore Trail began. So in anticipation for the eventual (2019) trail opening, Craig spent three years on an even greater expansion of the Cafe to accomadate the new and growing wave of visitors now seeking to access even more hike and bike opportunities.
Craig's attention to aesthetics, landscaping and engineering went above and beyond Tahoe standards. Between intense excavation to create catchments to ensure Lake protections, to accenting native landscaping with items from the Bonanza era, highlighting the western heritage theme of the site.
A transit stop was added to make it easy to access Tahoe's most scenic mountain bike and hiking trailheads. The Cafe serves delicious food with ideal dining accommodations (for COVID distancing requirements). It is locally run and operated by Patti McMullan, Max's wife.
Geotourism is tourism that sustains or enhances the unique; aesthetic, environmental, heritage, cultural and local well being of a place. How a business or site hosts travelers is key to encouraging a behavior that will sustain Tahoe for generations. The collective demonstration of stewardship at Tunnel Creek Station encourages people to Walk Softly, Respect Wildlife and Share Gratitude.
Incline Village was designed in 1960 as an 'exclusive community' next to a National Treasure with special amenities and lake access. As Tahoe travelers 'discovered' the serenity of the northeast shore (accelerated by Flume and East Shore Trails), the demand for lodging pushed Short Term Rentals into new territory. The increased traffic brought new local vs. visitor problems, mostly caused by lack of enforceable hosting protocols.
Vacation rentals have been part of Tahoe's lodging landscape for 40+years. The increase of visitors to the North Shore, coupled with only 4 commercial lodging options (in Incline/Crystal Bay), make Short Term Rentals attractive for visitors and property owners seeking higher returns. However, not all visitors are respectful, and those lacking in stewardship behavior end up costing the neighborhoods, wildlife and lake with additional; trash, noise, bear problems and parking. This has lead to a local outcry, lawsuits, hostilities, pressure on govt services and polarizing meetings with two sides: 'shut it down' vs. 'let the money keep rolling in'.
There is a Middle Way... CHANGE the HOSTING, ie; the Visitor Menu and lodging protocols aligned with what best serves the Lake. Example: Tahoe Stewardship Hosting Standard (a solution). It's hosting protocal puts the Lake first. When we make decisions based on what is best for Lake Tahoe, our National Treasure (that unfortunately didn't become a park, so it is up to locals to lead by example)...everyone wins.