Loving it to death? Lake Tahoe agencies working on sustainable tourism

Laney Griffo
Special to the Sierra Sun
The East Shore Trail will be closed for a few hours Sunday morning.
Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune

There is such a thing as loving a place to death, and with the growing masses visiting Lake Tahoe every year, overtourism is a top issue.

According to a study done by One Tahoe, an initiative to improve transportation in the basin, “there are an average of 50-plus million annual vehicle trips into, out of, and within the Lake Tahoe Basin.”

Several entities are taking steps to help prevent Tahoe from being loved to death and exploring the concept of sustainable tourism.

Sustainability Program Coordinator for Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Devin Middlebrook is taking steps to address issues with tourism. But for Middlebrook, it isn’t the amount of people who are visiting that’s the problem, it’s the lack of infrastructure.

“Sure there is a lot of people here on Fourth of July or Memorial Day or some of the bigger holidays but there are never more people than we can handle,” Middlebrook said.

The idea of turning Lake Tahoe into a national park has been passed around but according to Middlebrook, Tahoe is, “too far gone,” meaning there are too many people living there and too much environmental damage has been done already.

“We aren’t like Yosemite or other popular tourist locations, we don’t have gates or someone regulating how many people can come in,” Middlebrook said.

So local agencies have to figure out how to make tourism in Tahoe sustainable.

One of TRPA’s goals is to improve infrastructure including public transportation and more bike paths.

In TRPA’s 2018 Environmental Improvement Program report, it stated that there are 33 miles of existing bike paths and 69 miles of proposed paths.

They’ve also been working with Tahoe Transportation District to improve roads and public transportation options. The One Tahoe initiative is looking for ways to get funding for transportation projects such as implementing a vacancy tax or putting in tolls.

While transportation seems like an obvious way to make tourism in Tahoe more sustainable, other groups and entities around the basin are looking for solutions to help in other ways.

The Confluence of States

The state of Nevada has recently joined the Confluence of States, a group of 16 states who have partnered with the goal of advancing outdoor recreation while protecting the environment.

The decision to join the Confluence of States came on the heels of a successful legislative session for outdoor enthusiasts. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed into law a bill that creates the Division of Outdoor Recreation.

According to Jim Lawrence, deputy director for the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the department that will house the new division, the majority of the lands in the state are federally managed.

“Those public lands are vital for the culture of Nevada,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said the creation of the division as well as the decision to join the Confluence of States is a strong recognition of the importance of public lands not just to the economy but to the publics’ well being. But as tourism continues to grow, more demands are put on public lands.

According to the Outdoor Recreation Association, 57% of Nevadans participate in outdoor recreation each year and the outdoor recreation industry annually generates $12.6 billion in consumer spending.

The Confluence of States is a way for states who have recognized the importance of outdoor recreation in support each other and share strategies in promoting and protecting the environment.

“It gives us the ability to learn from each other and prop each other up,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence and his division, along with the TRPA and other stakeholders were responsible for the opening of the East Shore Trail.

“The goal of the project was to provide a renowned recreation experience but to stop erosion,” Lawrence said.

He hopes it will stop people from cutting through the wilderness down to Hidden Beach as well as stopping as many as cars from idling in the queue for Sand Harbor.

“Tahoe is precious to Nevada,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said joining the Confluence of States will help, “bolster our current best practices in Tahoe.”

It’s about balancing the recreational experience with environmental protection, Lawrence added.

To find out more, visit

Drink Tahoe Tap

Tap water from Lake Tahoe is known for its quality. Incline Village General Improvement District is encouraging businesses to offer Tahoe tap to more people. Grants funded by Tahoe Water Suppliers and Tahoe Fund are being offered to businesses to help cover some of the costs of installing refillable water stations.

With the discovery of microplastics in Lake Tahoe, many entities feel a responsibility to help fight the issue of garbage in the lake. One such agency is the Tahoe Water Suppliers Association; part of their mission is to, “advocate for the protection of Lake Tahoe as a viable source of drinking water.”

“One of the simplest ways people can make an impact is to reduce single-use plastic,” said Madonna Dunbar, executive director of the Tahoe Water Suppliers Association.

Dunbar said if people can change one habit, it’s easier for them to start making other changes, too.

The refill stations cost a little under $1,000 and the grants being offered are for $500. If businesses get the grant, they will also be listed on, a website that shows users the refill stations that are near them. Dunbar said people who come into businesses to fill up their water bottles may be inspired to shop at those businesses.

More importantly to Dunbar, it will inspire people to use less single-use plastic.

“This is another way to love Tahoe,” Dunbar said. “To love it by drinking it.”

To find out more, visit

LTVA — Kind Traveler and Pledge for the Wild

The Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority has decided in the last year to participate in two programs that aim to promote sustainable tourism.

“We have a role to play in helping our destination stay sustainable and expand the experience for the visitor that comes,” said Carol Chaplin, president & CEO of LTVA.

LTVA has partnered with Kind Traveler, an online hotel booking site that focuses on sustainable travel education and non-profit kick backs.

Visitors coming to South Lake can access discounts for room bookings at Edgewood Tahoe and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe in exchange for a $10 a night donation to Take Care Tahoe.

Take Care Tahoe is a group of more than 30 organizations that care about Tahoe. People can learn about Lake Tahoe and different environmental education activities, such as the importance of picking up dog poop and cigarette butts.

Chaplin is hoping more hotels in South Lake join Kind Traveler. She doesn’t like sustainable tourism as just a trend, but a shift in the way people think and travel. She added people are making conscious decisions about where they spend their money, so joining Kind Traveler will drive business to those hotels.

“It is the affiliation with the idea that that is a business that’s responsible to the place that they do business in,” Chaplin said. “We see more and more people making decisions about what they’re purchasing based on what that product stands for.”

In addition to partnering with Kind Traveler, LTVA has also partnered with Pledge for the Wild.

Pledge for the Wild is a group of mountain towns whose mission is to “support responsible tourism in wild places.”

“We have a responsibility to the environment, we want people to love it when they come here but we also want people to leave it in a good condition when they go,” Chaplin said.

The website lists several places in South Lake Tahoe, including Emerald Bay, Desolation Wilderness and Spooner Summit. It then asks people who go to those places to make a donation for the Tahoe Fund through the website or by texting WILD4TAHOE to 44321.

“We are all fortunate enough to live in a beautiful place with a lot of things that other people would like experience but in order for us to continue enjoying and for our visitors to continue to enjoy them; we can’t maintain that cycle without reinvesting in those assets and those resources,” Chaplin said.

To find out more about Kind Traveler, visit

To find out more about Pledge for the Wild, visit

Laney Griffo is a reporter with The Tahoe Daily Tribune, is a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at

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