Community Empowerment Through Beach Clean-Ups

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BY SEAN O’BRIEN | Moonshine Ink

2020 sure has presented some interesting challenges, hasn’t it? It wasn’t enough that we had to quarantine and teach our children at home. Then came the summer and an influx of tourism the likes of which we have rarely seen in these parts. With the tourists came a shot in the arm to our local economy, which we desperately needed, and a whole bunch of new challenges for our area.

For me, the challenges of this new era came with a feeling of powerlessness. It felt as if I was not in charge of my own destiny and I was watching life happen. This is a feeling that was new to me in some ways, yet familiar in other ways.

Like many others, I sat and watched our community change. I watched restaurants struggle to serve the influx of people. I watched single-use plastics and plastic foam boxes become the norm.

Disposable culture also became the norm. After years of attempting to limit our single use items, they were suddenly everywhere. With these disposable items came a tidal wave of trash problems. Single-use plastics and disposable condiment containers ended up on our streets, in our forests, and on our beaches. I do not believe we were ready for this change. It presented unique challenges for our communities.

In July, I decided to organize a community clean-up of Kings Beach State Recreation Area. This action helped me to get beyond the conversation of what we were supposed to do about the litter problems our area has been facing. It helped me to feel empowered again.

After the initial clean-up, a few people suggested we should organize one every Monday. I had lost my job for the summer and I had not much going on. I felt this was a great time to give back to my community. Each Monday morning, I wake up at 6:30 (way too early for me — did I mention I work in entertainment?), I go to Safeway and get a pot of coffee and two dozen donuts. A large group of Kings Beach locals meets at Ferrari’s playground at 8 a.m. and get to cleaning up Kings Beach. I feel great each Monday after spending some time with my community, doing something great for our environment.

Which brings me to my point: What is community? Why is it more important now than ever? One of the reasons I have lived in this area for nearly three decades is because of how deep the roots of our community go. Time and time again, I see our community bonding over the tough issues that we face. I see ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Not because they have to but because they truly want to. This global pandemic has created challenges for our small community and we have truly answered the call. This is why I love this place and the people who live here.

Moving forward, we should strive to solve our challenges through stewardship, education, and embracing change. If we all take a little bit of time to act upon our challenges, I believe it would be impactful to our visitors. We cannot allow ourselves to become exclusive or we will lose the soul of this amazing community.

I implore all of our community members to take the reins of our challenges and face them head on. Donating your time and energy can change more things than pointing a finger at someone.

Be the change you wish to see in this community. Get involved. Every little bit counts. When you lead by example, it creates a lasting impression upon the people you lead. One by one, we can help lead people to making better decisions about the way they carry themselves in our community. We could help them to understand this land is precious and we must be good stewards of our environment.

In closing, I would like to express that I understand and have empathy for the frustrations of this community. I think many of us feel our tourism could and should have been regulated better this summer. A lot of us felt the anxiety of the influx of so many people to our region in these troubling times. These are all valid feelings. I hope you can go out and do something for our community that offsets this anxiety, get involved in your community, and feel empowered again.

We are Tahoe Strong and we will all rise above our problems, if we work together.

~ Sean O’Brien is a longtime resident of Kings Beach. He moved to the area from Massachusetts in 1993 and is a sound engineer and DJ. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, snowboarding, playing music, and volunteering within the community.