Not Your Grandparents’ Road Trip: 5 Green Reasons to Visit National Parks
Wailing children, crotchety parents, sand and sunscreen in uncomfortable places… you get the idea. If this sounds familiar, chances are you’ve been on what feels like an eons-long summer trip with your family. But the National Park Service’s new, sustainable outlook on life may forever change the face of summer vacations, retrofitting the National Parks we know and love with some seriously awesome green technology.
With some of the vastest wilderness resources in the country, National Parks are feeling the brunt of climate change. Extreme flooding, serious drought, wildfires and glacial melt have meant that the severity of climate change is taken very seriously by the NPS. They are growing as a voice for climate change education and activism and are leading the way with green technology and infrastructure. On Earth Day of 2012 the NPS issued the Green Parks Plan (GPP), a comprehensive road map for change that emphasizes engaging visitors and communities in initiatives that mitigate climate change and educate about sustainability.
In the year since the plan’s debut, the National Parks have made impressive progress. Ninety-two percent of construction waste is diverted from landfills and greenhouse gas emissions are down thirteen percent. Here are five clean, green examples of why you should visit and support their efforts:
1.) The Pinnacles National Park West Side Visitors Center received a Platinum LEED certification (the highest available) for energy and water saving features—the building was even constructed using photovoltaic powers sources. Captain Planet would approve.
2.) At Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, you can now take a sustainable ride through the forests—the surrounding communities have partnered with park services to implement hybrid and electric buses as transportation. Thirteen other parks have also received grants from the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program to make the switch from fuel hogging diesel vehicles to electric and hybrid technologies. Ah, smell that fresh, clean air!
3.) Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks also spearheaded an initiative to start illuminating park attractions with solar power—the famous Crystal Cave is now completely lit by solar powered lights, which seriously lower energy consumption.
4.) On the East Coast, Assateague Island National Seashore is using solar power to generate light for the bathrooms, convenience store, campground office, ranger station, and parking lot.
5.) In Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the Cottonwood Cove Marina Building on Lake Mohave is the first ever LEED certified floating building, and is highly energy efficient and sustainably constructed.
Jeffrey Olson, an NPS Spokesman, said “There were over 273 million visitors to the parks last year alone, and we hope our sustainable initiative will engage visitors, neighbors and communities and to ask them to participate for the betterment of national parks and our world.”
When asked why Sierra readers should make an effort to visit the parks, Olson responded “visitor participation can have big environmental benefits. We hope our commitment to sustainability spreads and that park visitors, Sierra readers included, find opportunities to take similar steps in their own lives”.
- Photos and video courtesy of the National Parks Service
MAREN HUNSBERGER is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is a rising senior studying biology and environmental science at the College of William and Mary. She loves hiking, running, animals of all shapes and sizes, and wants to be David Attenborough when she grows up.