Welcome back to Owl Post, where I show you how to become a bona fide Truckee/Tahoe citizen by being in the loop and taking action, big or small. So far, I’ve mostly written about how people can be informed and take small actions to make a difference. I didn’t want to scare too many people away during my first couple of years of writing this column! But, this go-around, I’ll encourage you to go a bit bigger. And if you can’t, I still have suggestions for quick action at the end.
The natural beauty in Tahoe is no secret. Right up there with our jaw-dropping mountain vistas is another reason this area is incredible. It’s the way our community comes to together make change. We have creative, motivated, and hardworking people here who are dedicated to making Tahoe as nice a place to live and thrive as it is to play.
Many of those changemakers have something in common. They participated in the North Lake Tahoe-Truckee Leadership Program on their way there. I got to know a little bit about the program when Karen Willcuts, the program director asked me to speak to participants about Tahoe Silicon Mountain, the 501(c)(3) that I helped found with a mission to foster innovation, cultivate curiosity, and connect people through regular community events, workshops, showcases, and collaboration.
I got to speak to our emerging community leaders as part of their 6-month commitment to the program, which includes attending a series of workshops designed to familiarize them with regional issues and to take their leadership skills to the next level. I talked about what it took to meet our goals and grow from a monthly meetup to a much larger organization that puts on events like Tahoe Pitch Camp and Startup Weekend. Feeling the energy in the room and the excitement for community engagement left me wishing I had made time for the program early in my journey.
The workshop series prepares participants for building a team to create an action plan to make a change locally. They do interviews, surveys, and research before presentating at graduation. The action plan doesn’t have to end there, as you’ll see. For some of the participants, the action plan is just the beginning of validating their idea, forming relationships, and setting off to make the change they way to see in our community.
Now it’s time to be inspired by some of the projects and organizations that had their early beginnings at the North Lake Tahoe-Truckee Leadership Program.
Tahoe Food Hub
Now in its 10th year, the Tahoe Food Hub has accomplished much more than one can see by browsing the shelves full of local fresh produce and locally made goodies at the Farmacy, its Truckee Airport-based retail location. The group feeds dozens of food-insecure families with a local, sustainably grown weekly produce box. The food hub also created new market opportunities for local farms. This means the local farms aren’t just supported, they are growing their businesses based on Tahoe Food Hub wholesale and retail demand.
To say that the Tahoe Food Hub’s founder, Susie Sutphin, is dedicated to making the environment, economy and our communities more sustainable and resilient is an understatement. Sutphin quit her job and rented out her house for two years while she traveled the country on an intensive independent study on local, sustainable food systems that included volunteering on farms, taking college classes, researching, reading, attending conferences, and more.
In 2012, Sutphin was ready to put what she learned into action and saw the leadership program as the “perfect place to learn more about my community and incubate my idea for a food hub.”
The food hub has come a long way from the action plan her group worked on at the leadership program, and there’s no question that the Tahoe Food Hub has had a huge positive impact on our community in many planned ways and at least one unplanned way. In 2019, as the nonprofit expanded its operations to include online ordering, the team would be perfectly positioned to support our community during Covid. When many of us chose to skip the grocery store, we could order online from the Tahoe Food Hub and pick up our produce and other grocery items at their then-recently opened airport location. Not only that, but they were there to provide about 150 free produce boxes each week to those in need — remember all of us service workers who were out of a job overnight?
In 2022, Sutphin stepped back from her role as executive director and now serves as senior advisor. She advises, “Change does not come easy! It will be one of the hardest things you will ever do, but the most rewarding. If you stick with it, you will find it is what gives life meaning.”
The story of our community makerspace, the Truckee Roundhouse, is one that founding Board Member Karin Johnson describes as synchronicity. Johnson was regularly making the trek down to Rocklin to take metalworking classes and began thinking about how the concept of a makerspace where people could learn, practice, and teach crafts like metalworking would be an asset to the Truckee/Tahoe region. After a year of talking with enthusiastic friends and coworkers about the concept, a late fall 2014 Google search led her to an event put on by fellow founding board members Morgan Goodwin, Chris ‘Chief’ Gregor, and Grant Kaye. Along with the rest of the founding group, they turned their ideas into a fully operating facility in record time. Each member brought a unique skill set to the table to create this incredible fixture in our community at a time when most weren’t even familiar with the term ‘makerspace.’
Johnson’s involvement with the leadership program helped them get there. Area residents needed to know what a makerspace was, why they might want one, and weigh in on what they would want to see in the new space. Johnson participated in the leadership program in January 2015 and her team’s action plan helped to figure out next steps. What tools and classes did people want? How much would they pay for access to a space? Did people have tools to donate? Did they want to teach or volunteer? By 2016, the makerspace was open and operating, having used the surveys to build the space that our community wanted and would embrace so that it could become the thriving space it is today.
As you might guess, there is a lot more to the Truckee Roundhouse than a location where one can borrow and learn how to use tools. It’s a community. It’s a place where people can be creative and become more empowered designers, builders, and makers. The organization partners with a long list of schools and nonprofits, and has served hundreds of students, including many who are part of underserved communities. Attend any of their events and you can feel the energy.
Johnson said that the founding team’s passion and drive, along with teamwork, are what led to the success. She believes that to create something this big and meaningful to the community, there has to be synchronicity and a growth-oriented process. Johnson advises, “If there is something that is in you, that lights you up when you think about it — if it’s an idea or concept that isn’t going away in your mind or your awareness, [that’s how you know to run with it].”
Clear the Walks
We all know how hard it is to get around on foot in the winter. An afternoon stroll used to be a precarious roadside car-dodging session. And perhaps you had the dogs in tow, which only complicated matters. Or maybe you were post-holing through feet of snow on what appeared to be the route of your favorite summer backyard trail. All the while, our popular summer trails were just under the surface, in hibernation until the spring melt.
In 2016, a leadership program group set out to change this on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore. Armed with the results of a survey that said people want access to trails at least a couple of times a week to exercise, commute, or access shopping, the group approached the Tahoe City Public Utility District (TCPUD). Limited plowing started that winter and today the TCPUD maintains its trail network all winter.
Fast forward to 2023 and now we all expect winter access and have enjoyed it for years on the Legacy Trail in Truckee.
Truckee Dark Sky Project
The topic of dark skies is not a new one in Truckee. Sometimes ideas need time, multiple players, and multiple exposures to take hold. Local HOA outdoor lighting rules have long existed. Some have requirements on what hours outdoor lights can be on or on how lights can be positioned so that they cast light downward to minimize light pollution. I was excited to hear that dark skies were part of former mayor Morgan Goodwin’s Truckee Town Council campaign in 2018. That’s when I first learned that Truckee could take steps to get certified as an International Dark Sky Place.
In 2022, Siobhan Kenney was inspired to create opportunities for the community to observe the night sky and raise awareness about the threats of light pollution. Light pollution can reduce biodiversity because it throws off animals’ signals for navigating, nesting, mating, migrating, and more. And maybe most obviously, without darkness, prey cannot hide!
So, Kenney pitched the idea at the leadership program and a team joined her to create an action plan. Kenney was initially inspired by her time working as a ranger in Glacier National Park, which is certified as an International Dark Sky Park. She saw firsthand how popular the park’s “Half the Park Happens After Dark” program was with visitors and was motivated, she said, to “educate the public while also inspiring awe and wonder for night skies.”
While her team didn’t implement their action plan, Kenney was happy to share with me that progress is being made. The Town of Truckee included Night Sky in the 2040 General Plan to “Protect views of the night sky as an important natural and scenic resource in Truckee and minimize the effects of light pollution.”
The town also recently launched a Dark Skies awareness campaign, with councilmembers Anna Klovstad and Courtney Henderson championing it. Maybe some of you have participated in the info sessions or full moon hikes. Stay tuned for a rebate program related to that campaign for residents to replace their outdoor lighting with shielded versions that don’t create as much light pollution. An ordinance is likely in Truckee’s future, with a subcommittee forming soon to determine how we as a community can protect dark skies.
Another long-time-in-the-making initiative is the ban on single-use plastic water bottles. Back in 2016, a group in the leadership program presented a plan to get the Town of Truckee to pass an ordinance by the following year. While that didn’t happen, in 2024 the Truckee Town Council will be considering an ordinance to ban the sale of water in single-use plastic bottles and paper cartons under a gallon. Stay tuned.
Are you inspired by these stories of change? While you certainly don’t need to participate in the North Lake Tahoe-Truckee Leadership Program to make a change in this community, if you’re wondering where to start or how to build momentum, it’s a great idea to sign up: tahoetruckeeleadership.com.
Not ready for the time commitment? You can still be a huge help by filling out the surveys each group creates to inform their action plan. Look for links in the Truckee Chamber Big Life Weekly, North Tahoe Community Alliance, and North Tahoe Business Association newsletters at the end of February each year.