Saturday, November 17, 2007

Creating the right tourism environment

Unedited Nov. Tahoe Mt. News column

By Kathryn Reed
If you have a place people want to live, you have a place people want to visit. If you have a place people only want to visit, you have Disneyland.

Two things remain constant in Tahoe -- the Lake and the forest. We must focus on them so they continue to be places people want to live near and visit.

On a trip this year to Sanibel Island, Fla., I was struck by the mix of outdoor and indoor activities, conservation efforts and the lack of a tourist district. This Gulf Coast resort capitalizes on its natural surroundings, while manmade entities accentuate nature.

More than 20 miles of paved bike trails exist on the 12-mile by five-mile island. We are not a bike friendly town. Guided kayak tours meander through a wildlife preserve where dolphins and multitudes of bird species live. Sanibel's visitors' center is informative, with interactive displays.

Our Forest Service headquarters only has flyers, and Taylor Creek is seasonal. Explore Tahoe is an urban trailhead project in the Heavenly Village that opened in July in collaboration with the city, CTC, USFS and Tahoe Heritage Foundation. The first newsletter is at Cove East has great signage about birds, the Rainbow Trail works well. We need more of these.

To protect wildlife habitat at night, no lights can shine on Sanibel's beaches. Gators slither on golf courses. We must co-exist better with bears and coyotes. Do we really need more timeshares or condos on the Lake?

Plenty of agencies here work to keep the Lake pristine. The Forest Service, if politics and big business are left out, could have the integrity to manage our lands well.

Creating a wildlife park, environmental-education center and/or becoming a leader in green building and alternative energy are ways to evolve into a world-class place to live, work and play. Eco-tourism could be our niche.

Heavenly (I stole this idea) could educate skiers-hikers about old-growth. All buses could run on alternative fuels. Put bike racks everywhere.

The Stateline area -- California and Nevada -- is a tourist center. It's a locals' center only because it provides employment.

Just as people here need to be better integrated, so do all aspects of our community. The us vs. them mentality isn’t working. One side of town should not be for tourists and the other for locals. The South Shore needs to be one to survive.

Sanibel has all types of lodging throughout the island. Holiday Inn is the only hotel chain I saw. The other chains: Starbucks, Subway and Dairy Queen.

Their chamber of commerce sent us info. We perused it, the Internet and the info Casa Ybel Resort provided in our condo. We read about bike rentals, the shell museum, shelling, a day spa, the national wildlife refuge, historic village-museum, boat cruises-tours-rentals, restaurants and lodging.

Anonymously I called our South Shore chamber for a tourist packet. They transferred me to the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. I was told they have one bad brochure they didn't want to send. LTVA directed me to I typed "hiking trails," and got uninformative press releases. I typed "bike rentals" and got one outfit on Ski Run.

Even though the Nevada-based chamber is a private member-run entity, the California city I live and work in handed them our tax dollars. The council should feel dirty. Two of the backers are up for election next year and then I can have my vote. LTVA receives bucks from South Lake Tahoe, too, but isn’t a member-driven organization.

Are tourists getting what they need? What about people new to the area? What about locals wanting to find out about trails or history? Could the city do a better job by spending $65,000 on a public information officer instead of doling out $350,000 to the LTVA? We won’t know this budget cycle. Shame on them.

Sanibel maps have bike routes and places to visit. Maps I've seen of the South Shore list advertisers. LTVA dollars could create a map depicting road bike-mountain bike-walking trails, Tallac Historic Site, marinas, ski resorts, casinos and all points of interest.

The Lake Tahoe Bike Coalition, which has an outdated website, produced a map this year. I’m not sure if it is bad or our trail system just proves we’re not bike friendly.

Sanibel preserves history by bringing old buildings into one area. One house is a museum -- the other buildings give a sense of yester-year on the island. Do people know South Lake has a museum? Do we care about the Celio Ranch or the Barton house?

A thriving town people want to live in is rich in arts and culture. This has been mentioned at TRPA's placed based planning meetings and at the tourism conference in May. Is anyone listening?

We need to make Lake Tahoe an environmental destination -- where we are better educated about our surroundings, play in a manner that is ecologically and environmentally logical, and where wildlife and the land are better off instead of our footprint destroying this natural wonder.

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