The Greening of Voyageurs National Park

By Bill Carlson, Voyageurs National Park’s Facility Manager In everyday life, Americans are inundated with slogans in newspapers, the internet, radio, billboards, and television. Many of these slogans are about maintaining and keeping a healthy environment. Do any of these sound familiar to you? “Go Green,”, “Reduce Your Carbon Footprint,” “Save the Planet,” “Reduce Your Energy Use,” or “Buy Green Products.” Plenty of Americans can say they have heard these and more. But are we taking action?

Within the National Park Service, mandates are given to parks to assist in maintaining the health of the environment and Voyageurs National Park (VNP) is no exception. In fact, Voyageurs staff takes pride in working to reduce water consumption, energy use, and fuel use parkwide.

Reducing Voyageurs National Parks footprint on the environment has been taking place for over two decades and recently park staff has implemented several new measures beginning with potable water. Potable water use in park facilities is now low volume, low flow, or high efficiency.

There is little more we can do to save on water use short of eliminating flush toilets and drinking fountains.

Rainy Lake Visitor Center

Electrical Power Consumption within Voyageurs National Park still has much room for improvement due to the high cost of making necessary changes. However, steps are being put into place to make these improvements. One example of this change would be the conversion of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center’s lobby lights from incandescent to the current LED lights. In the past, park staff has changed, on average, two to three bulbs per week at around five dollars per bulb. With the installation of LED lights, park staff converted 124 lamps and has not replaced a single bulb within the last year. This conversation has saved park funds and led to an 80% reduction in electricity use. The project was made possible by Voyageurs National Park Association. Park staff will continue to make even more changes in this area over the next few years as funding allows and new products become available on the market. One example of this is finding appropriate lighting for historic objects. This process requires careful research to ensure the proper equipment is purchased so that these objects are not harmed. Park staff is working closely with each other to look for the best products on the market.

In 2014, Voyageurs National Park upgraded the HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) systems at the Rainy and Kabetogama Lake Visitor Centers to high efficiency air to air source heat pumps. These new systems will provide heat in the shoulder seasons at outdoor temperatures of 40 degrees and warmer and also provide the cooling systems through the summer. Heat pumps are efficient units that replace traditional air conditioners and provide both heating and cooling from the same unit. The units according to their ratings are 50% more efficient than the air conditioners being replaced which we hope will turn into additional savings in utility costs and a reduction in our carbon footprint.

When vehicles, boats, and snowmobiles need to be replaced at Voyageurs National Park, park staff are making big changes and big impacts on the environment. Smarter purchases include smaller cars and boats that operate with single engines instead of twin engines. These smaller vehicles greatly reduced fuel usage within the park by as much as 40%.

The most recent project Voyageurs National Park staff is working on is gathering data on park greenhouse gas emissions. This is being done by using the National Park Service’s Climate Leadership in Parks (CLIP), carbon management inventory tool, to measure the park’s emissions from both park and concession operations and visitor activities. Voyageurs Leadership Team has hired a temporary employee to conduct this project: work with other NPS Climate Friendly Parks Program (CFPP) staff to determine key climate change challenges at Voyageurs; identify ways to reduce the park’s carbon footprint; and to assess the park’s sustainability practices. The end result of this project will be a tool Voyageurs National Park staff can use, A Green Parks Action Plan, all in an effort to reduce operational costs.  This plan will enable Voyageurs staff to better move forward by making more educated choices for a reduced footprint on the environment and to produce outreach and communication products to increase awareness and understanding of climate change in the region.