State parks’ ideas for environment capture awards

Fort Macon State Park adopted a 'Pack It In/Pack It Out' campaign for trash.
Fort Macon State Park adopted a ‘Pack It In/Pack It Out’ campaign for trash.

Rangers and other employees in the state parks are always searching…and not necessarily for plants, animals or lost hikers. There is a lot of searching for better, more efficient and more environmentally friendly ways of doing things.

State parks are all about education, and as part of that, they take pride in setting a standard for environmental sustainability…in other words, to teach by example. A byproduct of this experimentation is that two state parks and one employee recently captured important sustainability awards from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Fort Macon and New River state parks were honored with first and second place group awards, respectively, and maintenance mechanic John Schell at Fort Macon was a second place winner for individual effort.

The initiatives involved energy-saving ideas inside visitor centers, saving gasoline, saving propane fuel and reducing beach litter. They would’ve been tried in the state parks with or without the DENR awards program, but the recognition is appreciated.

Through the awards program the state parks system is building a legacy of sustainability, with the Division of Parks and Recreation as a whole winning the top group award in 2012.

Fort Macon State Park won first place for group effort with a two-pronged approach to keeping its beaches cleaner. A new “Pack It In/Pack It Out” campaign has convinced visitors to carry refuse to containers near parking areas rather than using containers on the beach. This keeps trash from blowing into the dunes areas and eliminates gasoline-fueled trips onto the beach to empty containers. And for most purposes, the park has begun to use bicycles to patrol beach areas and parking lots.

New River State Park found ways to save on water and electricity at its visitor center.
New River State Park found ways to save on water and electricity at its visitor center.

At New River State Park, the staff created a sustainability panel that first requested a state energy audit and set aside “action days” to act on the recommendations – for instance, adjusting door seals and air vents, programming thermostats and examining schedules to reduce gasoline use. The park used a $2,000 gift from Friends of High Country State Parks to replace inefficient light fixtures with LED units and install motion sensors to reduce lighting requirements.

Schell’s idea that captured the individual award was to closely monitor humidity levels in the park buildings so that less propane is used to heat cooler air brought into the buildings. The idea cut propane use by 70 percent at an annual savings of more than $6,000.

There were other ideas that received attention in the awards program. Ranger Mary Smith at Gorges State Park was recognized for helping fourth and fifth graders at a nearby elementary school begin a “Recycling Buddies” program and combining their aluminum recycling efforts with those of the park. And, Gorges State Park was nominated for substantial cuts in water and electricity use at its new visitor center, completed last year under the LEED program of the U.S. Green Building Council.

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