My family just returned from an outdoors-themed vacation and one of our stops was the Grand Canyon. Although I knew that the Grand Canyon Visitor Center was using solar panels, I didn’t realize how extensive the green commitment was at the park. Everywhere you turn you’d see more evidence of how the Grand Canyon is going green. This is in stark contrast to my last visit nearly 20 years ago. This trip we definitely saw a greener Grand Canyon.

Green building

The Grand Canyon Visitor Center features a solar array made up of 84 solar panels that can produce 18 kilowatts of energy. In addition to providing energy to the building, the solar array is also the center point of a solar energy educational exhibit located inside the visitor center. The National Park Service estimates that more than four million people go through the visitor center each year and this exhibit is a great way to highlight the importance of renewable energy and share this with people from around the world.

The solar powered visitor center is just part of the National Park Service’s commitment to green building at the Grand Canyon. All new buildings being built inside the part will meet LEED certification standards. These new buildings will add to the Grand Canyon’s existing lineup of LEED certified buildings which include the South Rim Maintenance and Warehouse Facility, which received LEED Gold certification in August 2004, well before green building was as popular as it is today.

Recycling

While walking along the trails atop the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, there were recycling bins spread out at regular intervals. The trail that led from the historic El Tovar Hotel down to the Bright Angel Lodge and beyond had recycling containers about every 50 feet while the containers were more spread out in less populated areas. While seeing the recycling centers was nice, it was even better to see people actually taking the time to look at the different receptacles and figure out where their waste needed to go.

The park recycles glass, aluminum, cardboard, paper, plastic, and even automobile byproducts like motor oil and antifreeze. Some of the products are sent to local recycling centers while other products are reused including crushed glass being mixed in to asphalt.

Transportation

When I last visited the Grand Canyon, traffic jams were the norm. While there was still quite a bit of traffic this time, the National Park Service has created a comprehensive shuttle system to help alleviate the motor traffic in the park. Visitors to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon are encouraged to park in nearby Tusayan, Arizona and shuttle in to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. From there, park visitors can take one of several shuttles that deliver them to stops all along the South Rim.

The free shuttles run on compressed natural gas (CNG), which is a cleaner burning fuel than traditional gasoline. Combining the CNG-fueled buses with the reduction in motor traffic in the park and you have better air quality for park visitors as well as native wildlife. Although the park has been using CNG buses for years, funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allowed the National Park Service to add five low floor accessible shuttle buses to help meet the needs of individuals with disabilities visiting the park.

Although the Grand Canyon’s sustainability goals go beyond green building, a comprehensive recycling program, and a greener transportation system, these were three of the very obvious ways that Grand Canyon has embraced the importance of going green.

MNN homepage photo: markwainwright/Flickr 

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