Stay Out of Tahoe: Protests Against Littering Tourists

"Stay Out of Tahoe," Josh Lease's Facebook post rallying residents to protest tourists "trashing" Lake Tahoe. Photo: Josh Lease/Facebook

SOUTH TAHOE—COVID-19 cases are surging in Lake Tahoe, and residents say “streams of tourists” are to blame. Residents say visitors are littering and creating traffic congestion. Two planned protests aimed at raising awareness about the littering were planned by 20-year resident Josh Lease.

“Stay Out of Tahoe” was the slogan for Josh’s picture uploaded on Facebook, calling for a demonstration against the trash problem and the amount of people coming into Tahoe at 4 p.m. on Friday, August 14, and 9 a.m. on August 16. The Facebook post included aerial views of the four locations for the scheduled protests, roundabouts in Tahoe City, Kings Beach, Meyers, and Incline.

Josh Lease’s Facebook post, initially a “joke” that he did not expect would make headlines, told his friends to raise awareness about the issue of littering and the heightened risk of COVID due to harmful temporary visitors: “Time to demand respect for our town…The locals shouldn’t have to be punished while tourists get to come run rampant and trash our town. The lake has taken a huge hit this year and the level of disrespect from tourists is through the roof. Pack it in pack it out is not a hard thing to do and our own health and safety is our first priority.”

The Facebook post on August 9 gained the support of hundreds, with 213 “likes” and 186 comments as of August 14. Outraged residents shared photos and expressed their disgust at the trash left behind by tourists.

“This is what they do to our jewel of the Sierras! It took me 30 minutes to clean it all up,” commented Mandy Corder on a photo she uploaded of a pile of trash left outside a public restroom.

The Daily Tahoe Tribune reported residents making signs and planning a protest near the roundabout on U.S Highway 50 in Meyers where the majority of tourists file into town.

One sign held up by a protester at passing cars on Highway 50 read: “TOURISTS GO AWAY” and “OVER TOURISM IS DESTROYING TAHOE.” According to Facebook photos uploaded by sympathizers, demonstrators drew slogans on roads such as: “KEEP TAHOE BLUE!”

In an interview with KTXL-TV Sacramento, Josh Lease said on TV: “It’s simple. If our kids can’t go to school, how can these people come here in droves? Something has to be done about that.”

The heightened risk of COVID was among concerns. He also stated that the small South Tahoe community of 20,000 has only one hospital, which does “not even have an ICU,” or intensive care unit. However, the South Tahoe Barton Memorial Hospital’s website claims it possesses one ICU.

Mayor pro tempore (meaning temporary) of South Lake Tahoe, Tamra Wallace, told KTXL TV Sacramento that the city is doing all it can to keep beaches, bathroom, and parks clean. “We are cleaning all the bathrooms and providing hand sanitizer in stations, and providing hand sanitizing stations, and providing trash service three times a day.” She expressed concern that the parks and beaches had “lots of trash.”

The city of South Tahoe has implemented the ambassador program to hand out masks around town.

Chris Fiore, South Tahoe communications manager, said that after a city meeting on August 11, Tahoe departments and agencies are collaborating to address the trash problem, among them including the Public Works Department, and the South Tahoe Refuse, which provides services for recycling and waste.

Josh Lease’s post urged respect for tourists, and opened up by calling for protesters to refrain from anti-tourist slogans. “Roundabout rally this weekend. No vulgar signs. No fighting the tourists just our city, county,and state governments. No schools = no tourism !“

Lease also said in his interview with Sacramento television: “To say I am anti-tourist would be hypocritical of me, because I like to travel and go other places too. Something has to be done.”