Volunteers struggle to keep Tahoe graffiti-free | SierraSun.com

Volunteers struggle to keep Tahoe graffiti-free

With its crystal clear waters and pristine mountain views, there's little to no question that one of Lake Tahoe's most obvious allures is the scenery.

People visit from all over the world just to view the fantastic landscape themselves, so when local residents started noticing graffiti on the rocks at some beaches, they took matters into their own hands.

For the last few years, a crew of local do-gooders intent on cleaning up Lake Tahoe has been finding graffiti on natural elements around the lake and organizing cleanup missions to remove the paint themselves. But the group's organizer says they need more volunteers on the ground.

"The main mission is to clean graffiti around Tahoe," said Dylan Eichenberg, a 26-year-old Lake Tahoe local, who spearheaded the effort when it began several years ago. "It's a collaborative group — we want people who are self starters and want to go outdoors."

Eichenberg, who worked in environmental restoration when he began cleaning up graffiti around the lake, said it's his passion.

"There are lots of people out there doing this, I just became a figurehead for doing the coordination," he said.

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Eichenberg said he started out by organizing a group of people to meet up and clean graffiti off of the rocks at Bonsai Beach, and from there they continued looking for sites that also had graffiti.

In 2013, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency recognized Eichenberg's effort and gave him the Lake Tahoe Spirit Award. In 2014 as well as 2016, he was awarded Boreal Mountain Resort's "Protect Your Playground" grant to help fund additional graffiti cleanup projects.

Eichenberg said some of the grant money hasn't yet been used because he had to relocate to Southern California for work, and since then cleanup groups have been less frequent. Some of the sites that the group has cleaned in the past have also had new graffiti spring up recently.

"It's like a turf war," he said. "They're trying to tag our site and we're trying to clean it up, and they can tag faster than we can clean it up."

Reports of graffiti and other vandalism, or even litter, are common on locals' online forums, but Eichenberg said it's more fulfilling to get outside and do something about the problem.

"People can talk on Facebook all day, but when you get out on the site, where the graffiti is, that's where the transformation happens," he said.

Eichenberg said he'd like to see more people network and come together to clean up graffiti sites around Lake Tahoe. He can even help supply environmentally friendly cleaning products.

"I'm looking for project coordinators. If someone has a day, or a half-day between doing errands that you can go out and meet up with a couple people, that's enough," he said. "Some of these you can clean up off a rock in 20 minutes; some projects are going to take a couple of days."

Eichenberg said he's a fan of graffiti in certain places, like on man-made structures that aren't being used in urban areas. But as for nature, he prefers to see it left alone.

"I'm not here to judge whether or not something is good art, but I think a lot of people would agree that a lot of these are really juvenile tags that don't add to anything," he said.

"We keep these places protected because there's very few signs of human presence, but the more we add signs of human presence the more we take away from that experience."

Eichenberg said he and his group of volunteers try to figure out who owns or manages the location where graffiti is found before going to the site and cleaning it up, and works with them.

"I know it's the state park's job to clean up the graffiti, but they are overwhelmed," he said. "There's a lot of people that want to help, and I'm just trying to help."

Eichenberg said anyone that wants to help should join the Facebook group, "Tahoe Vandalism Removal Squad," bring some ideas and a plan.

Amanda Rhoades is a news, environment and business reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at arhoades@sierrasun.com or 530-550-2653. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @akrhoades.