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.