RENO, Nev. (News 4 & Fox 11) — Colin West, the man behind Lake Tahoe's largest cleanup in history, has made a name for himself in both Nevada and California.
Lake Tahoe has seen many groups dedicated to improving and enhancing the area's health, but Colin went deeper -- quite literally.
West and his team at Clean Up The Lake have spent months on a 72-mile cleanup of Lake Tahoe's shoreline. Essentially raking in trash from the perimeter of the lake, by using a variety of tools to retrieve what was probably considered somebody else's problem for many years.
The trash and local complaints are a tale as old as time, but not all the trash is coming from visitors -- some of it is just a product of humans existing near the lake.
Alex Gutt, a Tahoe City resident, said:
To see the trash that gets pulled out you know that some of it is accidental, but you know that some of it's not.
Gutt has been a huge financial supporter of Colin and his team at Clean Up The Lake for years. He is the Managing Director for AlpenGlobal.
Another resident, Tim Bogardus, said he was astonished by the sheer mass and volume of the trash pulled from the lake. Although Bogardus said, he could see the problem there every time he went out to paddleboard.
The trash problem is something every resident is well aware of, including Colin, but his story did not start with trash: it started with wine -- as most good stories do.
Colin told News 4 & Fox 11: "For 10 years I was running a film and television company on the wine industry and I had fun and I think having fun was extremely important to me in what I did for a career. I felt like that if we were all doing that we can make the world a better place."
However, Colin's fun in the wine industry ran out. So, he put a cork in it when work became mostly stressful without the benefit of making a difference in the world.
Fast forward to 2017 and Colin said he went looking for where he could make a mark that mattered. According to Colin, "When I was down traveling in Belize I noticed the beaches of central America were absolutely polluted. So I had an idea to start a charity where the actual legal name is still ‘Clean Up the Keys’ after Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye where I was at."
Colin had found his passion in Belize and was ready to make his mark and when he returned to the U.S. he did just that.
West brought the know-how and passion from Belize straight to Clean Up The Lake for the non-profit's first cleanup in September of 2019 – with no idea what he would find under Tahoe's surface.
For timeline purposes, we are noting that although the first cleanup was in 2019 that it was in July of 2018 that Colin filed with the IRS to make his non-profit official.
Now, back to the action where Colin started realizing how massive the trash problem in the waters in and around Tahoe is.
I started researching it. I started doing survey dives. We were pulling up so much litter and everything kind of fell into place. This was an issue that was laying hidden under the surface of Tahoe for years and had not been addressed.
Three years later and 31,150 lbs of trash have been removed. It was enough to catch Governor Steve Sisolak’s eye and make Colin’s effort permanent with an official Clean Up The Lake Day Proclamation.
The proclamation was certainly a monument to the nonprofit’s efforts and also some much-needed job security for Colin – I mean it's hard to fire a guy again after he ropes in a Proclamation from the Governor of Nevada.
Context is probably important here, so here's Colin to explain: "The pandemic hit and I had to fire myself and so it was a humbling moment one would say. I had to continue to rebuild the entire organization throughout the pandemic as a volunteer working for free.”
"Leading by example," said one Tahoe City resident News 4 &Fox 11 spoke with, which I'm convinced Colin has a tattoo of somewhere, is what rallied the community behind him over the past few years and made these massive cleanups possible.
Katie Senft, a Staff Research Associate for UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, said:
Colin has shown a very bright spotlight on the trash issues at Tahoe and being able to get people excited about diving in an ice-cold lake to pick up garbage. It's not an easy thing to do.
Others shared their thoughts on why Colin was able to take Clean Up The Lake to where it is today. Gutt added, “You know it's one thing to have a passion for something, and it's another thing to put that passion into practice."
Tahoe City resident, Michelle Kliszewski, said “It is extremely admirable what he has been able to do here because it takes a lot of willpower to make something from nothing.”
Bogardus said that no matter where the team is cleaning up around Lake Tahoe that the community calling that area home always bands together to back Colin up. "Colin had the vision and he was the catalyst," added Bogardus.
Senft tells News 4 & Fox 11 that aside from the immediate impact of trash removal, the data collected on problem areas and the type of trash could change policies and patterns for years to come. Information, Senft said, you just can't get from the surface
However, Colin tells me it was always about looking deeper:
I think it is important to believe in yourself. If you have an idea, a drive, follow that. Do what you can. The sky is the limit. Work hard, put your heart and soul into it, and, at the end of the day I am sure you will be just fine.
Clean Up The Lake is only 6.2 miles away from completing its 72-mile cleanup of Lake Tahoe. Beyond that, Colin was reserved about his team's next endeavors, but he ensured me they will not be stopping there.
Data of the hot spots for trash deposits around the lake are not available yet, but West tells News 4 & Fox 11 that they have identified spots on both sides. However, West did note that many of the popular east Tahoe beaches are littered with beer cans under the surface.
Amongst beer cans, Clean Up The Lake said other common items found are plastics, fishing equipment, aluminum, and construction materials. Senft said it is not yet known what the long term effect of micro-plastics are for the lake's health, but the removal of large plastics is a positive step in the right direction.
Stay tuned for more Knowing Nevada stories in the near future with a focus on the people that make us prideful to be Nevadans.