'The people have spoken and we are listening!'
After attending the first four Destination Stewardship Public Workshops, it was very clear the #1 stewardship goal for Tahoe's residents is...Lake preservation! (we have a 'shared vision')
If you have lived here a while you know this is not the first such attempt. Other well-meaning efforts to create a community influenced destination based (since that is what we are) 'prosperity-for-all sustainability plan' with imported Experts are in the file cabinet. They begin with public discussions on what we want and how we "like our tourists" and end with a report of helpful suggestions, rarely implemented.
An yes, there has been good adoption recently on Tahoe's Visitor sites, and the support of micro transit with TOT funds is great. But there are deeper long-standing challenges that keep DMO's (Destination Marketing Organization) from fully promoting a Visitor Menu of activities conducive to protecting the Lake. And the increase in Short Term Rental lodging without an onsite host (like a hotel without a manager) compounds the pressures of private interests controlling access and activities to this National Treasure who have different goals,
Yet, the Lake has a Wealth of Local Stewards and Stewardship Guidelines:
It would then behoove Tahoe's residents and tourism industry to insist that a "Boots-on-the-Ground" local Stewardship Team form to co-create and implement a viable Stewardship Plan, followed by paid positions. Federal and State funding are available to help efforts lead and manage a stewardship plan that follows mandates for a National Treasure.
As Sue Daniels in the Kings Beach workshop said, " The Lake does not owe us a living." However, living in a destination, we owe The Lake mitigation for our foothold and a shared responsibility to help guide travelers that we encounter to adopt our Tahoe culture of caring; a culture that we can sustain as we lead by example.
Let the games begin and this time let’s ensure the Lake Wins!
“The future will look back at this time and depending on the world they inherit, they will either ask,
”What were you thinking?
How did you find the courage and moral authority to stand up and work together to do the right thing?
If we succeed in protecting Lake Tahoe, part of the answer will be that people across all lines became part of a movement to make political will a renewable resource!" -- Al Gore, Tahoe Executive Summit 2013
On July 26, 1997 Bill Clinton issued an executive order to protect natural, recreational and ecological resources of Lake Tahoe (Executive Order 13057). Organizations were formed to regain and sustain the 100ft of water clarity the Lake had for a millennia. Currently the lake's visibility hovers around 60 ft. Many groups have provided relentless management actions, costing billions of dollars to protect our National Treasure. In addition, consultants from outside the watershed are hired through Federal and State issued Request For Proposals (RFP) to guide stakeholders (local business, government, nonprofits and the public) in creating visions and plans for ecologically sustainable prosperity through tourism, transit, infrastructure, housing and recreation. While much has been accomplished from the insight of the stakeholders and consultants, our fragile ecosystem is still straining under the weight of unsustainable tourism demand.
To address these concerns the generous people at TRPA (Tahoe Regional Planning Agency), the Tahoe Fund, Tahoe Visitor Authority, Chamber of Commerce and USFS (United States Forest Service) partnered to fund a new 2021 Tourism Initiative RFP "Lake Tahoe Future of Tourism and Shared Vision Stewardship Roadmap". Eight Consulting teams have responded ready to guide stakeholders to adopt sustainability principles that would encourage more responsible travel.
Concurrently, the University Nevada Reno (UNR) and Sierra Nevada University (SNU) located in Incline Village at Lake Tahoe, are merging. The SNU location or UNR 'Tahoe Campus', will offer environmental programs to compliment UC Davis, epicenter for Tahoe's world class Limnology research and programs, also located on SNU campus. There are other colleges in the Tahoe watershed that would also be ideal contenders, as the long term objective would be to connect this curriculum to all local educational facilities at some capacity.
These two events provide a unique opportunity to respond to Al Gore's call.
Sustainable Tahoe is proposing the creation of a Sustainable Tourism PILOT PROGRAM to leverage the expertise of the publicly funded Sustainable Travel Consultant Team to guide Tahoe-based sustainability students. For example, the RFP tasks become student assignments, such as; analyzing visitor data , travel challenges, visitor hosting protocol and then determine activities most conducive to sustaining Lake Tahoe. In this way the Shared Vision Roadmap is co-created by the generation inheriting the long term results. The trained, dedicated and active team of local students can help to sort out policy and implement a public/private partnership to affect positive change.
The Sustainable Travel Pilot Program then can evolve into a Sustainable Tourism Certification or Masters Degree. Student teams will co-design, deliver and implement a Responsible Travel Roadmap. Students will learn by doing through course work that provides field experience, a resume, a degree and new careers to ensure the roadmap to a sustainable future becomes a reality. Potential job positions might be 'Chamber of Stewardship' leader, 'Biodiversity Officer', 'Responsible Travel Manager'.
We have a classroom sitting in a fragile watershed, overwhelmed by tourists still responding to a marketing and hosting strategy ripe for transformation. Our climate emergency requires innovation, and the time to act is now.
Applied Learning or Community Based Learning courses are now being offered at Evergreen State College, in Washington and Barstow Community College in California. UC Davis classes already utilize Lake Tahoe as a laboratory for learning that could potentially support a Sustainable Tourism Major. SNU presently, offers Resort Management and Business Management majors, but it's hard to imagine a Tahoe economy without an "eco”-onomy first.
Sustainable Tourism is a growing major offered in universities around the world, while redefining new sustainability career paths. In the future other colleges located in Tahoe Truckee watershed within all the gateways, counties, 2 states and communities could be connected, working together to learn, APPLY and evolve sustainable strategies of Tahoe's Shared Vision Roadmap.
Fresh student minds ready to learn can make it "cool to care" and will not hesitate to leverage the wealth of insight gained from decades of consultant driven public engagement to support Sustainable Tourism... making 'political collaboration a renewable resource'.
Our world class destination, schools and business all have a responsibility to lead-by-example for the lake, wildlife and visitors. The world is watching to see if Tahoe will indeed embrace and implement responsible travel as a mission...even after the consultants leave.
FYI: Metaphor on how we need to pick up the pace
Education Innovation for our Climate Emergency
Core to our 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 accommodate 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 and is locally run.
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.