By Joanne S. Marchetta

As we shake off the traces of winter, the Lake Tahoe Region is beginning to feel the hopeful enthusiasm of the coming summer. Adding to the optimism is the newly developed partnership advancing what will be the first Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan. An unprecedented collaboration of recreation and tourism partners will be working with the public and many stakeholders to set new strategies for outdoor recreation and tourism in the greater Tahoe region, including Truckee.

Destination stewardship planning will better connect what is today disjointed in the region. It will align transportation and recreation management with different approaches to tourism marketing and management. The concept wraps social, environmental, and economic concerns together to improve the whole picture. A team of thirteen organizations including the USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, the Washoe Tribe, all four regional visitors bureaus, state and local governments, and nonprofits have come together with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) to more cohesively manage recreation and tourism.

Public workshops held throughout the Tahoe Basin this week and an upcoming virtual workshop are a stepping off point for the project with more opportunities to get involved after the summer season.

Why this is important

With an iconic alpine lake as the draw, Tahoe’s foundation in recreation and tourism is both inevitable and beneficial. Sixty percent of the region’s jobs are supported by tourism spending, as are most businesses, services, programs, roads, and trails. Throughout modern times, in addition to being a home and workplace for year-rounders, the region has been a respite for surrounding metropolitan areas. Whether it was steamships crossing the lake in the 19th century, or the popularity that followed the 1960 Winter Olympics, or the outdoor escape of the COVID pandemic, recreation and tourism have woven the fabric of the region.

However, more residents, longer periods of peak population, and changes in visitation are having serious impacts. In addition to traffic congestion, crowded recreation areas, and the need for better care by recreational users, communities are also impacted by housing costs, climate change impacts, and boom and bust economic cycles.

At the same time, nearly 90 percent of the Tahoe Basin is public land and should be accessible to all. The area is also the ancestral home of the native Washoe, or Wašišiw, who are land managers and active stewards here, offering traditional knowledge into restoration projects. The future of recreation and tourism must support diverse, equitable access and protect traditional and local ways of life.

Given these factors, the Tahoe Region needs to take coordinated action to manage recreation and tourism more responsibly.

What the plan will do

An experienced team including the Center for Responsible Travel and the Travel Foundation have partnered with organizations in Tahoe and Truckee to form a shared vision for destination stewardship. Places all over the globe are wrestling with how to care for the places we love when tourism starts to come at the expense of the resource and the experience. The team is bringing innovative approaches to data analysis and community engagement as well as recent experience developing similar plans with communities in Vail, Colo. and Western Montana.

This process is part of a larger shift in tourism from destination marketing to improved destination management. Importantly, this is the first time all regional visitors authorities and recreation lands managers have come together with a mind of improving relations between visitors and local communities. With public and stakeholder input, the plan will create a shared vision to better manage the impacts around recreation and tourism and harmonize the needs of the environment, businesses, visitors, and local communities. An approach with new strategies can increase the value of tourism for Tahoe’s communities and encourage everyone to take care of Tahoe.

Many in Tahoe and Truckee are simultaneously working on complementary facets of this challenge, including Truckee’s Stewardship Plan, tourism management at the local level, regional housing initiatives, and implementing the Regional Transportation Plan. This process will feed into and help support those without duplicating or interrupting them.

I encourage you to stay informed about the emerging Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan and get involved by visiting Watch for additional public input opportunities, sign up for the eNews, and be part of the process. Creating a new future for outdoor recreation and tourism invites participation from everyone.

–Joanne S. Marchetta is the Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency