Following the recent international news stories showcasing the shocking images of thousands of pounds of litter being removed from a Lake Tahoe beach after the July 4th holiday, the focus on preventing litter at this iconic Sierra Nevada destination has intensified.
While the media coverage understandably drew public outrage, it also overlooked the positive news that the majority of sites cleaned during the “Keep Tahoe Red, White & Blue” July 5th Beach Cleanup, hosted by the League to Save Lake Tahoe, were much less impacted.
Despite the ongoing trend of cleaner beaches at many locations around the lake over the past few years, there is a pressing need to address the disgusting state of that particular trash-choked shoreline. Even now, League volunteers continue to find hundreds of pounds of litter, emphasizing the urgency for action. The League to Save Lake Tahoe and USDA Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit are independently and collaboratively working to prevent a recurrence of the scenes witnessed on July 5th.
“What happened at Zephyr Shoals was absolutely unacceptable,” said Forest Supervisor Erick Walker from the USDA Forest Service, naming the National Forest location hardest hit with litter on July 4th. “Lake Tahoe is a national treasure, with 155,000 acres of public land that are open for everyone to enjoy. You wouldn’t empty a trash-filled cooler on your living room floor; it’s just as unthinkable to do it on a Tahoe beach.”
Zephyr Shoals, located on the lake’s southeastern shore, was hit the hardest by litter on July 4th. Walker likened the act of littering on a Tahoe beach to emptying a trash-filled cooler on one’s living room floor—an unthinkable behavior.
In the past decade, land managers responsible for many of Tahoe’s popular recreation sites have taken aggressive and effective measures to mitigate user impacts. These efforts include installing additional trash receptacles during busy periods, improving developed recreation facilities, and actively enforcing alcohol prohibitions.
This has led to an unfortunate consequence whereby irresponsible partygoers have been pushed towards smaller, less intensively managed sites, thereby concentrating the impacts. Zephyr Shoals serves as a prime example.
To better serve the public and protect the invaluable resources of Zephyr Shoals, the Forest Service announced that it will be managed by a concessionaire starting this fall, similar to other developed National Forest sites around the Tahoe Basin. Under this arrangement, a concessionaire will oversee day-to-day operations in accordance with a permit from the Forest Service. Public access will be maintained, but visitors should expect changes such as managed parking, enhanced trash management, signage, sanitation services, and staffing.
In a collaborative effort, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, Forest Service, and other stakeholders are taking additional steps to raise the standard of beach management across the Tahoe Basin. They have committed to “Tahoe Blue Beaches,” a multi-year initiative centered around education, engineering, and enforcement.
Proactive outreach, physical signage, and clear communication will help educate visitors on responsible outdoor enjoyment and prevent the impacts of irresponsible behavior. Engineering improvements will involve the addition of trash cans, dumpsters, restrooms, and the necessary staffing for upkeep. Access points will be designed to blend harmoniously with the natural contours of the sites, as Tahoe is not suited for paved roads and buildings everywhere.
Enforcement will ensure that rules and regulations are strictly followed, with education and engineering preceding any necessary enforcement actions. The introduction of innovative technologies and techniques, such as the BEBOT beach-cleaning robot brought to Tahoe by the League and ECO-CLEAN Solutions, will further enhance these efforts.
Collectively, these elevated management practices will define what it means to be called a “Tahoe Blue Beach”—a place where the environment is respected, protected, and enjoyed. The League aims to publicly recognize beaches and businesses that go the extra mile to Keep Tahoe Blue for future generations.
“As the public’s interest in Tahoe continues to climb, it’s increasingly important that people who enjoy this special place also do their part to take care of it,” said Public Services Staff Officer Daniel Cressy from the USDA Forest Service. “Promoting this goal is one of the core pillars of the Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan, and one way we’ll reach our shared vision for Tahoe as a healthy, thriving, welcoming place.”
Every individual has the power to contribute to the effort of Keeping Tahoe Blue, whether they can spare five hours or just five minutes. Visit keeptahoeblue.org/tahoebluegooder to learn more about how you can play a role in preserving the beauty and environmental integrity of Lake Tahoe.