Sustaining Our National Treasures

A beautiful and well-known part of Death valley "Zabriskie-point".

By David M. Brown
By David M. Brown

On August 25, our National Park System (NPS) celebrates 100 years. Today, 412 areas are overseen by the NPS, including national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House.

Throughout the system, concessionaires contracted to provide lodging, tours and other amenities have established sustainable goals at the parks, with those in the West being strong green leaders. One corporate exemplar is Xanterra Parks & Resorts, a hospitality provider that maintains “A Softer Footprint” program to reduce environmental impact. The program’s “four pillars” are: Use resources efficiently and effectively; build and operate sustainably; strive for zero waste; and provide guests with sustainable choices.

"Leave it as it is. Man cannot improve on it; not a bit. The ages have been at work on it and Man can only mar it." -Theodore Roosevelt at the Grand Canyon South Rim, May 6, 1903
“Leave it as it is. Man cannot improve on it; not a bit. The ages have been at work on it and Man can only mar it.” -Theodore Roosevelt at the Grand Canyon South Rim, May 6, 1903

“As we look forward to another 100 years of partnership with the NPS as stewards of these beautiful places where we operate, we will relentlessly continue to reduce our carbon footprint and invite our guests to join us leaving ‘a softer footprint,’” said Catherine Greener, vice president of sustainability for Xanterra.

Greener adds that the company has also set “Next 10” goals for the decade, with each property responsible for achieving these goals on site. The company manages seven park lodges, including those at Crater Lake, Glacier, Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone national parks, all with sustainability programs.

ABOVE AND BELOW SEA LEVEL: REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE

Solar panel array at the Death Valley National Park Furnace Creek Resort.
Solar panel array at the Death Valley National Park Furnace Creek Resort.

Zion National Park Lodge in Springdale, Utah, has been a Xanterra sustainability leader, becoming the first park with an International Standards Organization (ISO)-certified Environmental Management System in 2000. Four years ago, the Zion team also achieved Green Seal Gold Certification (GS-33), becoming just the third such lodge in the country. “To this day, it remains elusive, with only three additional hotels being able to achieve the same results,” said Emily Barajas, LEED G.A., sustainability manager for Zion Lodge.

In California at Death Valley National Park, the 290-room Furnace Creek Resort has a solar facility with 5,740 solar panels, generating about two million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity annually – about 30-35 percent of all energy demand for the facilities year round. At 214 feet below sea level, Death Valley often posts the highest temperatures in the country. “This saves 1,200 barrels of oil compared with fossil fuel-powered generation,” said Heather Willis, the resort’s sustainability director, “and we expect to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than two million pounds each year.”

THE GREEN CANYON

The lobby of Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon South Rim.
The lobby of Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon South Rim.

In Arizona at the Grand Canyon South Rim, “Xanterra is engaged in environmental sustainability, encompassing everything we do from the food we serve to the initiatives we undertake to reduce energy, water and fuel usage, and solid waste to the landfill,” explained David Perkins, director of sustainability for Grand Canyon National Park Lodges.

“We kicked off 2016 with a third-party energy and water assessment that is helping us to target the best projects for energy and water conservation,” Perkins added. “Some of these projects are in the process of approval now, ranging from the simple such as shower head upgrades to the complex such as drain heat recovery and rainwater collection projects.”

Solid waste diversion is also an important component at the park, totaling 4.3 million pounds in 2015. “We recycle everything we can: mixed recyclables from guests and staff; but even non-traditional items like retired uniforms and linens, coffee pods (k-cups) from Keurig machines, scrap metal, bottle corks, housekeeping gloves and more,” explained Perkins.

Even the 148 famous Grand Canyon mules are involved in the waste diversion program. “Not only do our mules carry guests and supplies in and out of the canyon, they get to eat up the veterinarian-approved fruits and vegetables that come from food preparation areas in our restaurant kitchens,” Perkins said.

Plus, every year the sure-footed animals provide 1.5 million tons of manure for composting.

That’s serious recycling.


For more information on Xanterra Parks & Resorts, visit xanterra.com. Brown is a Valley-based freelancer at azwriter.com.

Author photo by Rick Carter. Mule photo courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park Lodges. Other photos by Scott Temme, Xanterra.

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