For all the talk of protecting Lake Tahoe, lack of funds, reams of paperwork and bureaucratic holdups often delay getting initiatives beyond the drawing board. Enter the Tahoe Fund.
“It’s a nonprofit dedicated to on-the-ground projects,” says Cindy Gustafson, Tahoe Fund president. “We’re about raising funds to get projects done.”
A bi-state, Basin-wide initiative, the Tahoe Fund is a collaborative effort spearheaded by board members from various interest groups, including the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the League to Save Lake Tahoe; Gustafson herself is general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utility District.
The Tahoe Fund is modeled after the highly successful Yosemite Conservancy, which, says Gustafson, is a sister agency to the National Park Service. “The Park Service provides a list of needs, project ideas and concepts and the Conservancy does the fundraising to help with the shortfalls in national funding.”
Likewise, the Tahoe Fund is partnering with the California Tahoe Conservancy and the Nevada Division of State Lands. The two agencies will approach the Fund with ideas for area improvements or conservation matters—such as linking together trail networks, developing pedestrian- and bike-friendly communities and restoring wildlife habitats—and the Fund will raise the necessary money to turn those ideas into reality.
“The California Tahoe Conservancy and the Nevada Division of State Lands both serve as a vehicle for presenting project ideas around the Basin to the Fund,” says Patrick Wright, executive director of the California Tahoe Conservancy. However, he adds, projects won’t come solely from those two groups. “We have a lot of grantees, groups like the Tahoe Rim Trail. It’s a collaborative effort and we will be the catalysts that are helping bring these folks together.”
With all the organizations looking to improve and restore Lake Tahoe, what makes the Tahoe Fund special? “What sets this organization apart from others is its basin-wide focus and emphasis on on-the-ground projects,” says Wright. “There are a lot of single-purpose groups around the Basin. We’re a little more comprehensive in our approach.”
The Tahoe Fund, which plans to secure money from both private individuals and charitable foundations, hopes to raise more than the Yosemite Conservancy’s $55 million mark. “If you look at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s environmental improvement program, you see the need is for hundreds of millions of dollars,” says Gustafson.
One current source of funding is specialized Lake Tahoe license plates. Revenue from the plates, just redesigned this past summer with graphic mountain peaks above a blue lake, go to the Fund and will eventually be turned into visible area improvements, whether in the form of trails, interpretive kiosks, recreational facilities or restoration and conservation work.
“Contributions to the Fund will go directly to on-the-ground projects,” says Gustafson. “There is tremendous need and passion to protect The Lake; the Tahoe Fund will help it be protected for future generations.”
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