I’m fascinated by the fact that my hometown and the town that I call home, though 2,409 miles apart, are connected by a single roadway. From the quiet neighborhood where I was raised in suburban New Jersey, it’s a brief ride down the Garden State Parkway to hop on I-80 West to Truckee.
As folk legend Woody Guthrie sang in “This Land is Your Land,” from California to the New York Island, the stark contrast from one end of 80 (in Jersey-speak it’s not the freeway and most-definitely not the 80, it’s Route 80 or simply 80) to the other is mind-blowing. At its most eastern end, 80 starts/ends at the George Washington Bridge, overlooking the PCB-polluted waters of the Hudson River and surrounded by the concrete high-rises of Fort Lee, New Jersey, with endless streams of trash littering the roadside. On the western end, you cruise through the picturesque Sierra Nevada and are welcomed by lakes and rivers the color of the Caribbean, azure blue sky, towering redwoods, and the golden sun setting over the Pacific Ocean.
One of the reasons the Truckee/Tahoe area is so beautiful is that it is clean. Seldom do you see roadside litter, and it’s even more rare to see plastic bags floating along streets like tumbleweeds blowing in the wind, especially since the bag ban went into effect a few years back.
On July 5, 2018, a record 499 volunteers showed up to clean up the mess left behind by beachgoers and fireworks revelers who, the night before, celebrated the Fourth of July. The volunteers picked up nearly 1,500 pounds of trash left behind along five beaches. According to the League to Save Lake Tahoe, that included 8,061 cigarette butts, and 18,235 pieces of single-use plastic, such as cups, lids, bottle caps, and food wrappers. While the volunteers’ efforts are to be lauded, the level of disrespect for our beautiful wildlands is disheartening.
No matter if you are a permanent resident or a visitor passing through, the duty to keep this majestic region pristine is ours just the same. On June 1, we can all do our part, with a number of scheduled community clean-up days set to take place (here). Residents of Truckee/Tahoe take great pride in being able to share the natural beauty of the Sierra Nevada with the estimated 3 million people (10 million visitor vehicle trips, see here) who annually visit the greater Lake Tahoe area. Being a good neighbor extends beyond carrying out trash from public recreation areas, however, although that is a great starting point. If your visit includes staying in a short-term rental, being respectful of surrounding permanent residents goes a long way (here). Acts such as celebrating goods and services made here (here), picking up after your dog (here), or encouraging triple-bottom line business practices (here), teach visitors and part-timers to treat this incredible place with the same respect as we local residents do. Remember, this land is our land. We’re all stewards of this place we call home.