Human-Caused Issues Arise for Lake Tahoe as Area Sees 3 Times More Visitors Than Yosemite National Park in Past Year

John Cunningham | | Industry NewsIndustry News
trash around beautiful lake tahoe
Volunteers cleaned ridiculous amounts of trash off the beaches after July 4, 2022. | Image: Keep Tahoe Blue Facebook

Lake Tahoe has an apparent people problem. For those who have visited Lake Tahoe or live around the Tahoe Basin, the issue of over-tourism is nothing new. During the summer, as over-crowded beaches vacate for the day, trash litters the shoreline, and overflowing dumpsters spill into adjacent forests. Winter months often bring hours-long traffic jams to reach a destination just minutes down the road. Residents will exclaim how ‘shoulder season,’ or the time between summer and skiing in the spring and fall, has year after year grown shorter yet busier.

According to the new Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan, in 2022, visitation to the Tahoe area (the basin and Truckee) was approximately three times greater than nearby Yosemite National Park. The region saw two million unique visitors accounting for nearly 13 million visitor days (including overnight stays), with an extra four million visitors coming from people just passing through for the day “without reserving or purchasing services.” To put the size into perspective, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit National Forest is only 200,000 acres, almost 1/4 the size of Yosemite National Park.

This new plan, the fourteenth of its kind, in collaboration with 17 regional organizations, was developed to find solutions to help “balance the needs of the environment, businesses, visitors, and local communities.” It identifies four strategic pillars:

  • Foster a tourism economy that gives back,
  • Turn a shared vision into shared action,
  • Advance a culture of caring for the greater Lake Tahoe region
  • Improve the Tahoe experience for all

The Double-edged Sword

Tourism undeniably is the leading contributor to the local economy, accounting for 62% overall annually. However, too many people visiting causes heavy traffic, literally turning the roads to fine dust and debris, which eventually makes its way into the lake, disrupting the natural clarity Lake Tahoe is known for.

During and since the pandemic, tourists, second-home owners, and remote workers flooded into the Tahoe area. People escaping to the outdoors with limited Covid restrictions have continued to become more rampant than normal. The real estate market sky-rocketed, with a new wave of a “work from home” workforce, constraining many residents to relocate. In turn, some Tahoe workers inevitably were left with no choice but to commute, adding more vehicles to an already challenged, mostly two-lane road infrastructure around the lake and in and out of the basin.

There seems to be a major disconnect on two things: few Tahoe locals see the positive impacts of tourism outweighing the negatives, and not enough visitors are thoughtful towards the environment. Based on the July 2022 visitor survey in the Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan, 82% of visitors say they do their part to keep a destination clean when they visit, and only 71% believe they are mindful and respectful of the natural environment. On the other hand, only 29% of locals agree that the positive benefits of tourism and recreation in the Tahoe area outweigh the negative impacts, and only 21% of residents agree that tourism and recreation support quality of life and a strong sense of community.

In conclusion, without a strong, welcoming vibe from the local community, many visitors feel the unwanted nature directed at them during their trips to Lake Tahoe. On the other hand, the same residents are beyond fed up with the lack of respect and common sense from visitors towards the natural environment and the individuals who work so hard in the community to preserve the beautiful place they call home.

Many organizations such as Keep Tahoe Blue, Clean Up The Lake, and Clean Tahoe have widespread goals of helping maintain and preserve Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area while educating locals and visitors alike on their actions’ effects on the environment. For generations to come to enjoy the beautiful, turquoise waters of Lake Tahoe, a change of some sort is 100% necessary and needed sooner than later.

Keep Tahoe blue clean up at the beach
Over 6,000 pounds of trash were picked up by volunteers at Zephyr Cove on July 5, 2023. | Image: Keep Tahoe Blue Facebook

Related Articles

3 thoughts on “Human-Caused Issues Arise for Lake Tahoe as Area Sees 3 Times More Visitors Than Yosemite National Park in Past Year

  1. I saw the coolest saying on a van in Alabama today. It read “Leave nothing behind!” In other words when you visit an area…it should be just as pristine…don’t leave a trace that you were even there! If garbage etc. is left, the park services will close the parks, the forests and the lakes!

  2. Easy solution to this problem. If people can’t be responsible and clean up behind themselves, then bar access this these pristine & beautiful places! Too many people think they’re entitled now a days and that attitude needs to stop now!

Got an opinion? Let us know...