Generation Green: Wilderness Stewardship in Desolation

The town of South Lake Tahoe sits on the southern shores of the shimmering waters of Lake Tahoe. This little mountain hamlet boasts vibrant and bustling summer and winter vacation seasons, drawing in millions of visitors a year. Site-seers and thrill-seekers travel across the world to enjoy the variety of activities that Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains provide. Swimmers look to the cool blue waters of the Lake for a brief respite from the heat of the California sun. Crowds of skiers wait in the chilly winter mornings for the chance to make first tracks on the fresh-powdered slopes rising above the little town. The bright lights of the casinos on the California-Nevada state line beckon the optimistic risk-taker to try their luck at the poker table.

Just to the west of South Lake Tahoe, the Desolation Wilderness provides an opportunity for those vacationers who seek a more primitive experience. Spanning over 100 square miles of the Central Sierras and home to dramatic granite peaks and crystalline alpine lakes, The Desolation is a treasured refuge for tourists across the region. Visitors from San Francisco, Sacramento, Reno, and countless other major metropolitan areas flock to The Desolation for its promise of beauty, challenge, and solitude. Upon arriving, visitors may find that this solitude is harder to come by than initially expected. Desolation Wilderness regularly hosts over 150,000 users a year.

What about the locals? South Lake Tahoe is a community that thrives on its tourism industry, but there are over 20,000 residents who live and work in the town year-round. What is the nature of their relationship with wilderness?

I had the pleasure of joining a group of young people in the Wilderness, all high schoolers from local schools. They were working in Desolation Wilderness as members of Generation Green. Generation Green is a work program designed to build work ethics, job skills, leadership experiences, and teamwork skills for low-income and diverse students who are typically not connected to the outdoors. The students spend their summer working alongside Forest Service staff, where they learn about natural resource management, environmental stewardship, and wilderness ethics. Generation Green also spends one week working, sleeping, and living in Desolation Wilderness. Several volunteers and I spent time with them on a warm afternoon talking about what they were doing in the Wilderness and how they got here.

Nearly every single Generation Green student mentioned they had never been into the Wilderness. More astonishing was that though they lived mere minutes away, most did not know that Desolation Wilderness even existed. Now that they were here, toiling away on the trail, battling the heat and mosquitos, I was curious what their impression of the Wilderness was now. The answer was resounding: although they had had a hard week of work, they expressed admiration and appreciation for the area.

It was encouraging to see the student’s transformation. With so many challenges facing Wilderness, the new-found appreciation for Wilderness, and environmental stewardship in general, that the Generation Green students displayed gives me encouragement that the current struggle to protect and preserve our precious resources will continue into the future. One young person stood out in particular. This person, now in his early twenties, joined Generation Green while he was a high school student. His experience was so profound that it motivated him to pursue his college education. He completed his bachelor’s degree, earned his teaching certification, and is one year from completing his master’s degree. He was so grateful to Generation Green that he returned to serve as a crew leader for this season’s batch of stewards. It is experiences like his that give hope that there is another wave of environmental stewards just on the horizon. 


Carl Woody is a Wilderness Fellow in USFS Region 5 working on the Desolation and Mt. Rose Wildernesses.

Carl Completed his Master Degree in Environmental Policy Natural Resource Management from Indiana University in May of 2019. He is interested in the nexus of public land management policy, science, and community-scale stewardship. Presenting good science to policy makers and the public in an approachable and straightforward style is essential to garnering support for our public lands. His goal is to act as a conduit for good science to reach the public and inspire action. America's public lands belong to us all, and we must each take ownership and responsibility for it before we let it disappear. While serving on an AmeriCorps Conservation Corps Carl had the pleasure of working and living in the Montana wilderness for a summer. He experienced the power, majesty, and wonder of the wilderness. Carl is looking forward to ensuring that all people have chance to experience the inspiration of the wild. In his spare time he enjoys playing basketball, fishing and making toys for his niece and nephews. 

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The Society for Wilderness Stewardship is a non-profit, charitable organization under the 501 (c)(3) section of the Internal Revenue Code.