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September 1, 2014

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Tahoe trashed: Beach crowds take memories, leave garbage

Image

Leila Navidi

The view of Lake Tahoe from Logan Shoals Vista on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011.

The recent holiday weekend saw tens of thousands of people cram the shores of Lake Tahoe, presumably, to enjoy clean water and mountain scenery.

Then a bunch of them treated the shoreline like their own personal garbage dumps.

The mess took some of the shine off what was an otherwise successful weekend for an area that depends on hefty visitor counts to fuel the local economy.

A few days of cleanup, much of it done by volunteers, has already removed thousands of pounds of trash from the beaches. But even though the garbage is now gone plenty of residents and visitors remain dismayed by how many people showed complete disregard for the lake.

"We were sort of devastated by it," said Leah Moore, 32, of Truckee, Calif. "It was just really crappy to see."

Moore, a photographer, decided to document the holiday aftermath at Zephyr Cove with a photo of a trash-covered beach.

The photo shows paper, plastic bottles, abandoned beach toys and empty food packages. Volunteers were already at work on the mess but Moore was able to shoot while much of the debris was still strewn about the sand.

She posted the photo to an "I Love Lake Tahoe" group on Facebook on Saturday and by Wednesday it had racked up nearly 500 "likes" and almost 60 comments, many of them from people outraged by the scene.

"The mentality has to change," Moore said. "That was the whole point of posting the picture, I wanted everyone to see what was going on."

Public and nonprofit workers at the lake were already well aware of the potential for the party weekend to result in trashed beaches. The issue of cleanliness around the lake was already at the forefront in the wake of controversy over the longtime, annual Independence Day fireworks show.

Residents, dismayed by spent fireworks falling into the water and washing up on the beaches, cited the Clean Water Act in a lawsuit filed in November in U.S. District Court in Sacramento. In response officials moved the base of the fireworks show to the Nevada side of the lake and out of the reach of California regulators. The requirements that came with the Nevada-side permits, however, included beach cleanup provisions.

More broadly, the dispute prompted agencies and organizations around the lake to take a fresh look at the way they managed beach cleanups. Several groups, led by the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, the City of South Lake Tahoe and others created an Adopt-a-Beach website to plan and organize cleanups. The recent weekend was the first big holiday since the site went live, said Carol Chaplin, executive director of the visitors authority.

"It is about time we have some organized approach to what we say is important, which is lake clarity and cleanliness," Chaplin said.

Volunteers removed thousands of pounds of trash from around the lake, with the League to Save Lake Tahoe reporting 2,260 pounds removed from just six beaches in its one-day Keep Tahoe Red, White and Blue Beach Cleanup.

Jonathan Cook-Fisher, special uses program manager for the U.S. Forest Service's Lake Tahoe unit, estimated his team removed more than 1,000 pounds of trash during the weekend, much more than the typical weekend haul of a couple bags.

Cook-Fisher said with so many people flocking to the lake for the holiday the Forest Service is forced to pull resources from other areas in an attempt to manage the crowds and the aftermath.

"A lot of these places arent viewed as national forests as they are a place to have fun and party," he said. "That comes back ot the Forest Service, taxpayer dollars. That is coming out of our appropriated budget."

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