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Volunteers collect 4.3 tons of trash at annual Lake Tahoe beach cleanup

On July 5, 402 volunteers attended beach cleanups around Lake Tahoe to pick up 4.3 tons of trash from Fourth of July celebrations.

Looking out at Zephyr Cove’s beach, a sea of trash greeted me. Tents, coolers, shoes, and thousands of empty cans and bottles of alcohol covered the sand — all of it left behind by Fourth of July revelers.

I had to hold my breath as I leaned in to grab some loose fishing line that was wrapped around a goose’s leg. As I pulled it free, the goose peacefully waddled into the beautiful blue water of Lake Tahoe, oblivious to the danger it was in.

As volunteers started to arrive to help with the cleanup, they quietly remarked on how impossible their task seemed.

They did their best to pick up the litter during the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s annual Keep Tahoe Red, White, and Blue beach cleanup. Still, the amount of trash left behind proved to be a massive undertaking.

“After the Fourth of July, it’s really sad to see. When people come together and they’re having a good time, they’re not really thinking about the impact and what they leave in their wake, and it really leaves me somewhat speechless,” said Colin West, founder and executive director of Clean Up the Lake.

Clean Up the Lake utilizes scuba diving to clean trash from under the surface of Lake Tahoe. They joined the League to assist at Zephyr Cove, just one of the six locations the cleanup targeted.

Last year, volunteers collected 2,200 pounds of trash at Zephyr Cove alone. This year, they hoped it would be significantly less, said Jeff Cowen, public information officer for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

“That was after there had already been a number of bags of trash hauled off by the Forest Service the night before and the morning before we got here. So seeing that we’re possibly going to have almost as much garbage again this year is really disheartening and it shows us that we’ve got a lot more work to do,” he said.

By the time they were done, the volunteers collected a record-breaking 8,559 pounds of trash from all six locations.

One of the volunteers, Caroline “Caz” Elliot, moved to Lake Tahoe in 2019 after falling in love with the area. She said she has a lot of empathy for visitors but hopes they can understand that their actions affect the environment.

“I think people don’t realize that it all adds up, and people don’t see, even living here, I didn’t see the work that goes on behind the scenes to keep this place pristine. So I think treating it like you would treat your house. Because people do live here, and fish live here, and birds live here. and bears live here,” Elliot said.

Sophia Holm is a student reporter for KUNR and the Hitchcock Project for Visualizing Science, which is part of the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Sophia Holm (she/her) is a Lake Tahoe resident with a deep passion for nature and an even stronger love for storytelling. She strives to provide KUNR’s listening region with strong stories about climate news, issues, and solutions as the station’s Summer 2023 Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science Intern.
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