Families surrounded the barbeque grills that dotted the outskirts of Kings Beach as the smell of hotdogs and steaks filled the air on Sunday.
Colorful umbrellas and tents lined the shore while parents sat back to watch their kids splash in the water.
For the team of volunteers who combed through the beach in search of trash, it was no surprise to see so many people visiting Lake Tahoe the day after the Fourth of July.
Matt Schulz, 21, of Incline Village, spent his morning lugging around a bag of trash with the help of his sister and her boyfriend. Within three hours, the group had collected 20 pounds of trash, mostly microplastics and cigarette butts.
Some of the trash included toys, receipts, and wrapping paper from granola bars and other snacks.
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Since 2015, the organization has collected 8,000 pounds of litter, 11,130 plastic pieces and more than 29,000 cigarette butts. Volunteers are still calculating how much was picked up on Sunday.
“It’s really important to keep the lake blue and clean because we want future generations to be able to enjoy it,” Schulz said.
Schulz said he often picks up trash on his own time and when he’s hiking through the area.
“It makes you sad to see a bunch of trash, especially when you walk by it every day and you see more and more trash every day,” he said.
New precautionary measures because of pandemic
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of volunteers for the League to Save Lake Tahoe met at Kings Beach for the annual post-Fourth of July clean up.
This year, the group partnered with the U.S. Forest Service, California State Parks, and the City of South Lake Tahoe.
Volunteers took precautionary measures to protect themselves from spreading the COVID-19 virus. They met at Kings, Regan and Nevada Beach, fewer sites than normal. In previous years, participants met at six clean up locations.
As a precaution, the organization also capped the number of volunteers to 50 people per site, according to spokesman Chris Joseph. Any extra volunteers were sent to clean up other rural and nearby beaches such as Moon Dune Beach.
The volunteers were also required to wear a mask and to spread out to maintain the proper distance.
Marilee Movius, community engagement manager, said she couldn’t predict how much trash would be picked up this year, especially with the current pandemic conditions.
Still, she said the group has picked up a lot of trash so far late Sunday morning.
“The lake needs us more than ever,” Movius said. “Land managers are understaffed but we’re still getting crowds of people.”
“It’s really up to all of us to keep Tahoe blue,” she said. “We pick up litter to make sure we leave it better than how we found it.”
Movius said the number of volunteers who participated in the clean up on Sunday shows the enthusiasm people have in doing their part.
She encouraged visitors to pick up after themselves, and she said residents should also pick up trash whenever they come across it in their neighborhoods, hiking trails or at the beach.
Trash is found everywhere: ‘It’s just annoying’
Maryssa Schulz, 18, of Incline Village, said she also sees trash around the area all of the time.
“I always see litter everywhere and it’s just annoying,” she said. “It’s a wakeup call to people that they should be using reusable bags.”
Her boyfriend, Andrew Balsbaugh, 17, of Sacramento, drove to Kings Beach to help in her efforts.
“I don’t think it’s very surprising because this beach sees a lot of people, either local or visitors,” he said.
Moriah Mock and Devon Walker, both 31 and from Reno, said they also weren’t surprised by the crowds.
“We come to Tahoe all of the time, and we love it and want to keep it beautiful,” Mock said. “We want to do our part.
“It’s really easy and fun picking up trash on a beautiful day,” she said. “It feels more fun rather than hard work, and it doesn’t feel like a chore.”
The pair said they picked up mostly microplastics such as bottle caps, straws and other plastics. They also picked up several cigarette butts.
“It’s disheartening, but I try to focus on how I can help,” Mock said.
Marcella Corona is a breaking news reporter who covers crime and justice in Northern Nevada. Support her work by subscribing to RGJ.com.