Written by Beto Wetter
As another summer season reaches its halfway point in the American West, albeit an especially peculiar one, visitors have begun to arrive once more to the fresh air and open spaces around one most mythic of places in California: Lake Tahoe.
Tahoe is one of those words that almost everybody knows, wherever they are from, a place but also a word that symbolizes something in landscape as well as popular culture – something which always has the environment front and center of this most amazing alpine location.
Historically, Tahoe and its eponymous lake began as the home of the Washoe Tribe of Native American for over 10,000 years. When John C. Fremont’s commissioned exploration “discovered” the tranquil alpine lake in 1844, Tahoe’s story suddenly shifted as American frontiersmen flocked to the Sierras during the onset of the California Gold Rush years.
After the frenzy of this period and California’s subsequent statehood as a free state in 1850, the Sierras were the staging ground for a groundbreaking industrial and technological feat: directly witnessing and hosting a portion of Central Pacific’s Transcontinental Railroad.
Not only does Tahoe capture the imagination of groundbreaking technological feats, but it also represents the development of American conservation. When the Nevada Silver Rush and lumber industry stripped the basin of one billion board feet of old-growth timber and literally packed up their bags and find other locations, John Muir–America’s conservationist firebrand–created the Sierra Club to promote conservation and to lobby Congress, and lobby hard, to fight for the creation of the National Parks and the Federal Forest Reserves. Thanks to Muir’s and conservationists’ efforts, Tahoe’s alpine forests regained lost territory.
This tradition of conservation was continued by the formation of the Tahoe Regional Planning Authority (TRPA), a bistate and bipartisan compact between the states of California and Nevada that was subsequently ratified by the United States Congress in 1969 to promote sustainable development and combat the rampant issue of uncontrolled development in the Lake Tahoe basin. The 1980 revision of the pact granted the TRPA authority to enforce environmental regulations to preserve Lake Tahoe’s natural beauty.
A beacon of progress
Environmentally speaking, Tahoe remains a beacon of progress; a success story in interstate relations and cooperation, though it is still work in progress. According to the Tahoe Trust, even with the formation of the TRPA and the regulations to help promote sustainability in the Lake Tahoe area, “environmentalists recognized that human residency in the basin would continue to cause problems in the future” and that a balance would have to be continually established in order to maintain a fine balance.
From boating on the lake, biking along the shore, and hiking on the nearby mountain passes in the summer, to skiing at the myriad of world-class ski resorts (including Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics), Tahoe remains a recreational paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and naturalists alike. No wonder then that those who know Tahoe are its fiercest environmental advocates and defenders.
Cover picture: @jess.wandering
Photographs courtesy of Beto Wetter
Beto Wetter researches and writes about a range of environmental topics for wide-ranging international print and media publications.