by Matthew McClure
Quick, what comes to mind when I mention national parks? I’m guessing snow-capped mountains and pristine blue skies. Maybe the serene sound of water passing over stones in a trout-filled stream. The crisp scent of pine needles carried by a gentle breeze.
Or, for you, does talk of America’s national parks evoke the sight of smog-enshrouded valleys and the stench of diesel fumes? Perhaps the disquieting roar of snowmobiles or ATVs?
Depending on the national park, the less idyllic portrait may in fact be reality. Great Smoky Mountains and Joshua Tree are but two of many national parks dealing with alarmingly poor air quality.
Pollution in national parks often is caused by external sources, such as nearby coal plants. However, much of the eco-unfriendly activity occurs within the parks’ borders, which isn’t entirely surprising given that 280 million people annually visit U.S. national parks.
Recognizing the need to dramatically reduce its carbon footprint, the National Park Service recently launched the Green Parks Plan, a large-scale initiative to focus the bureau on sustainable management of national parks and key environmental issues.
“The Green Parks Plan is a comprehensive approach to sustainability that will reduce the National Park Service’s carbon footprint through actions taken in every park and office,” National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said during an April news conference at the Lincoln Memorial. “It addresses how we will reduce our energy and water consumption, limit the waste we generate, mitigate the effects of climate change, change what we buy and how we manage facilities, and integrate sustainable practices into every aspect of our operations.”
The initiative’s success relies heavily on the participation of the National Park Service’s 20,000-plus employees, along with more than 200,000 volunteers, park partners and concessioners.
Indiana is home to three national parks: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park and Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. These three sites, like all other national parks, are adopting sweeping changes to reduce their carbon footprint.
Bruce Rowe serves as the public information director for Indiana Dunes. “We have been working to make Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore a greener park for the last couple of years and will continue to do so in support of the new Green Parks initiative,” he said.
Rowe noted the eco-friendly steps the park already has taken, including the installation of solar-powered lights in its parking lots and a green roof on one of the buildings within its headquarters, the use of recycled tires and concrete to produce rubberized asphalt for a park road, and the construction of the Portage Lakefront Pavilion, which, with a geothermal heat pump HVAC system, earned Gold LEED certified status from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Rowe added, “There is even a solar-powered storage cabin at the park’s Dunes Learning Center, where solar panels and shingles power interior lights, a vacuum, ceiling fan and vent as a demonstration for the park’s overnight educational camp.”
Nationally, two of the many Green Parks Plan projects include a new reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial, reducing water consumption by two million gallons annually, as well as new lighting at Big Bend National Park, cutting its light bill by 95 percent and garnering the park the official “Dark Sky” designation from the International Dark-Sky Association.
For more information on the National Park Service’s efforts, visit www.nps.gov/greenparksplan.