A few years ago, if someone made the statement, “Denali National Park in Alaska is green,” one might have thought to themselves, “Of course it’s green, that’s why it’s a National Park. So it can stay green.” In the 21st Century “green” does not just refer to the color of a location, or the amount of foliage contained within it. “Green” can also mean how environmentally conservative a business or location is. The irony is that the National Parks were created to help protect and conserve the environment of a particularly beautiful location but in reality the locations are still being damaged. Being a National Park attracts millions of people a year to these locations, people who bring with them an enormous environmental impact that includes trash, smog, destruction of plant life, and interference with wildlife. Thankfully, the National Park Service (NPS) realizes these effects, and is taking steps to become “Green” in today’s terms, and truly help conserve the environment they were entrusted with long ago.
Yellowstone’s Green Effect According to the NPS website, Yellowstone started making efforts to go green in 1997. Since then, Yellowstone has replaced some of its vehicles with alternative fuel vehicles. They also implemented an extensive recycling program which encompasses the typical paper and aluminum, to the extreme of bear spray canisters. In 2010, Yellowstone was able to recycle an amazing 616 tons of trash.
Grand Canyon National Park gets electrified In 2009, the NPS installed a photovoltaic solar array at its Visitor Center. The panels help to provide about a third of the center’s electricity. The genius of this installation is seen in the fact that NPS actually incorporated the ground panels as an actual exhibit. Visitors can read from information boards about how the system helps the Center become a productive green entity and how they, themselves can help make solar power more productive.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park feels the heat Hawaii Volcanoes NPS has begun to feel the heat with global temperatures rising. To do their part to counteract global warming, Hawaii Volcanoes has implemented an action plan to record the air pollution at their park and to reduce these emissions by 2012. In their research, NPS has found that almost three quarters of the air pollution in the park was produced from transportation, including park vehicles, buses, and visitor vehicles. To reduce these effects, Hawaii Volcanoes NPS have begun to use hydrogen fueled buses, replace staff vehicles with alternative fuel vehicles, and created a biking program to encourage visitors to use their own energy to see the park. Their plan also takes into account reducing the waste and wastewater impact at the park, while encouraging visitors and staff to carry on climate aware changes at home.
Denali National Park and Preserve receives an award The Denali NP received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) award in 2005 after completion of their new visitor center. The new center is the second building in the National Park system to receive the award, with the Grand Canyon having the other. Features that helped Denali NP achieve this accreditation include: Sustainable local building materials, use of natural light, utilizing the fireplace for heating water in addition to building heat, taking advantage of the cold glacier-fed waters to help with air conditioning, and of course use of solar panels. The Visitor Center in Denali has become an excellent example of how new buildings can actually help make an environmental difference in conservation.
How a single person can help Protecting our National Parks shouldn’t solely be the responsibility of the government. Every single person is a steward of this planet, and it’s National Parks. When visiting a National Park next time, take the park provided shuttle instead of driving your private vehicle. Remember to “pack out” what you bring in. Stay on the trails, going off trail destroys vital vegetation. Use the recycle bins when you find them, or keep your recyclables until you get home. Leave the music devices, and other electronics at home, and conserve electricity by taking in the fact that the natural beauty of the park will be sufficient entertainment. Quietly watch the wildlife from a distance and use that zoom lens on your camera so that the wildlife isn’t disturbed. If everyone takes a step towards responsibility for the parks, then the National Park Service can truly achieve its goal of conservation.