Skip to main content

By Cara Hollis

Donner Lake is home away from home for Truckee native sisters Ella and Olivia Hoyer.  The middle school students like to sail, swim, paddle board, and attend camps on the lake all summer.  So, in 2020 when they went to enjoy some ice cream on a public pier, the trashed state of the pier and the surrounding waters was too much to take.  Ella wound up in tears.

“It really hurt my heart,” said Ella, now 14.

She went home in angry tears and discussed the situation with her parents.  They encouraged her to turn her anger into action and Ella started with an essay where she put all that passion into words.


Ella and her supportive sister Olivia visiting Donner Lake 2 years after their hard-fought effort to clean it up began. Photo Credit: Cara Hollis

“It was a bummer that a 12-year-old girl had to be the one to stand up for the Lake and show the adults what was going on because they hadn’t been doing anything previously,” said Ella.  “We should take better care of the lake because everybody comes to here do their fun activities, and they are just trashing it.”

As part of her essay Ella developed an action plan.  She wanted to put up signs on all the public piers in Donner Lake, encouraging visitors to clean up after themselves, and organize weekly clean ups to be led by her and her sister all through the summer months.

When Ella’s neighbor, adventure photographer and videographer Court Leve heard about Ella’s essay he made a video about the trash problem at Donner Lake and Ella’s plan to address the issue.

This caught the attention of Clean Up The Lake Founder and Executive Director, Colin West. Colin and his team had planned to embark on the first circumnavigated SCUBA cleanup of Lake Tahoe but postponed the project due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Inspired by Ella’s video Colin reached out to Ella and her family, and they decided to work together to tackle the litter in and around Donner Lake and to get signs up on all of the public piers.

To help fund the project Ella and the Clean Up The Lake team created a successful GoFundMe campaign which garnished huge support from the Truckee-Tahoe community and allowed for the Clean Up The Lake team to SCUBA around the entire lake and support Ella’s dream of putting up litter awareness signs on all of the 37 public piers.

Donner Lake proved to be the perfect project for the Clean Up The Lake team to refine their tactics and practice their data collection before they took on the larger 72-Mile cleanup of Lake Tahoe.  So, while Ella and Olivia were working to keep the shoreline clean during the summer, Colin and his team took a dive into the lake itself.

Throughout the summer the Clean Up The Lake team completed the entire 8-mile circumference removing 5,151 pounds of litter out of Donner Lake, including an astonishing 101 tires. After finishing the cleanup Colin helped Ella get approval from the Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District (TDRPD) to put up her signs on all the public piers. When the final design was chosen Ella and Colin went to the TDRPD board of directors to request approval to have the signs mounted on the piers.

“There is little 12-year-old me with Colin in front of a board of adults and I had to present my idea in front of all of them,” said Ella.  “Colin was right there with me, and he helped me because I was scared to talk to the adults,” she said laughing at the memory.

Hanging the signs was approved. Happy tears followed.

Ella’s thoughtful sign

Ella’s thoughtful sign, designed by Mike Daniels, hangs on pier 37 at Donner Lake reminding visitors to clean up after themselves. Photo Credit: Cara Hollis

So, the actions of a 12-year-old girl had an enormous positive impact for Donner Lake and the surrounding environment and helped kick start the larger efforts to clean up Lake Tahoe.

Two years have gone by and Clean Up The Lake  has decided that it is time to go back and check in on Donner Lake. The team started another subsurface cleanup effort in May 2022.  Will they find less trash than in 2020?

For the sake of an enthusiastic young lady who loves her beautiful lake and all the joy it brings, we sure hope so.

For more information about Clean Up the Lake please visit us at If you would like to help us keep your favorite lakes beautiful, a link to make a tax-deductible donation to Clean Up The Lake 501(c)3.

Make a donation