By Julie Regan

Summer is a magnificent time of year in Tahoe. Longer days, near-perfect temperatures, and Tahoe’s lush environment have brought about a summer migration for millennia. As the snow melted every year, the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, Lake Tahoe’s original and current stewards, would return to the center of their homelands, as much for spiritual fulfillment as sustenance. In fact, travel is intrinsic to human nature. From nomadic hunter-gatherers to people in search of knowledge, new relationships, and escape, getting away is something we have always done.

Many of us who now call Lake Tahoe home began as visitors. The stunning landscape attracts people from around the globe, and more people are settling in nearby metropolitan areas within easy reach of this national treasure. Tahoe’s natural attraction carries both benefits and challenges. Our $5 billion tourism-based economy supports infrastructure, public safety, transportation, and environmental improvements. At the same time, if outdoor recreation isn’t managed sustainably, impacts like trash, traffic, and parking may worsen. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) has long recognized that to address these issues effectively, we must collaborate on a regional scale and embrace a new paradigm of stewardship at Lake Tahoe.

Last year marked a significant milestone with the launch of the first-ever Destination Stewardship Plan for the region, a collaborative initiative involving 18 federal, tribal, state, local, private, and nonprofit organizations. To implement the plan and help redefine outdoor recreation and tourism, a new Stewardship Council is working to transform our approach, and it will take collective action from each of us to lead by example and embody the principles of responsible recreation.

Often, irresponsible behavior stems from a lack of awareness. The Lake Tahoe Ambassador Program is entering its third season of educating people about how to take care of Tahoe. The ambassadors model the kind of behaviors we want to see and encourage beach and trail users to pick up litter and pack out their trash. Additionally, land managers are investing in more trash receptacles and implementing more frequent removal.

As a founding member of the council, TRPA is securing transportation funding, facilitating regional partnerships, and collecting comprehensive data to help prioritize infrastructure and transportation improvements. While actual traffic counts in the Tahoe Basin have changed little over the past 20-plus years, recreation and congestion patterns are shifting significantly, and the basin’s infrastructure must catch up.

In addition to new behaviors, climate change is having a direct impact on outdoor recreation. Research has shown Highway 50 over Echo Summit sees an additional 1,000 cars for every 10-degree rise in temperature. TRPA and our partners are working holistically to meet the challenges of climate-driven travel and better manage Tahoe’s busiest recreation corridors. Continuous improvements in the popular Nevada State Route 28 corridor are leading examples. The East Shore Trail completed just five years ago has already seen well over 1 million users with a single-day record of 3,700 people. The East Shore Express shuttle is continuing to run to Sand Harbor and up to Chimney Beach where the USDA Forest Service is expanding its parking lot and highway managers are simultaneously removing roadside parking spaces. Later this summer, Sand Harbor Nevada State Park is pioneering a parking reservation system that will be the first at a Lake Tahoe public beach.

Further south in the Zephyr Cove/Shoals area, outstanding coordination between the Forest Service, Nevada Department of Transportation, Douglas County, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, and the managers of Zephyr Cove Resort has resulted in a safe drop off area, a traffic light and pedestrian crossing, and a paid parking system across the highway. Dangerous roadside parking will be prohibited in the area this year and Zephyr Cove is actively participating in the League’s Blue Beaches program by deploying more trash receptacles and security on busy weekends.

Regular and reliable transit is expanding in other ways too. TART Connect microtransit service in North Lake Tahoe recently celebrated its 1-millionth ride and South Shore’s Lake Link is making progress and continues to expand its service area.

Destination stewardship principles are shaping a new ethos at Tahoe, but there is much more work to be done. Mark Twain, one of Tahoe’s most famous chroniclers, once wrote “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” If this is true, coming to Tahoe can change the lives of residents and visitors alike, as long as the culture they find here is inclusive and caring. I hope you can join us in taking care of Tahoe this summer.

–Julie Regan is Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency