April 19, 2012 at 4:04 PM ET
It’s not easy being green, but the National Park Service (NPS) has decided it’s worth the effort.
On Thursday, the agency that oversees 397 units comprising 84 million acres of land across the country unveiled a new plan to integrate sustainable practices into all aspects of its operations. Announced by NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis, the plan sets out ambitious goals for conserving energy and water, reducing greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions and limiting waste.
"The Green Parks Plan asks each park and office to review routine activities, operations and programs and reflect on how we manage our work to prioritize actions and leverage existing funds to lessen our impact on the environment,” said Jarvis. “Much of our success will hinge on adopting sustainability as a guiding value and embedding it in what we do, every day.
The nine-point plan covers everything from purchasing decisions and waste management to vehicle use and construction projects. Among the goals:
It won’t be easy given the current budget environment and the fact that the NPS manages more than 4 million acres of maintained landscapes, such as campgrounds and battlefields; more than 3,000 utility systems, and more than 67,000 structures.
“Unfortunately, the Park Service has lagged a bit — not through a lack of commitment but because of their fiscal reality,” said Mark Wenzler, vice president for climate and air quality programs at the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). “You can’t make it into a clean, green machine overnight.”
Still, there has already been progress as new facilities and operations adopt more sustainable practices. Among them:
In and of themselves, such efforts may seem small but they also serve as examples that can inspire park visitors to adopt more sustainable practices, says Wenzler: “When you think of parks, you don’t think of them as big polluters but they get almost 300 million visitors every year that they can influence.”
That’s especially pertinent now, he added, noting that National Park Week (April 21–29), when the parks that charge admission waive those fees, starts Saturday and the summer travel season is around the corner.
“As we approach the heavy visitor season, it’s really important that the parks show what they’re doing to address climate change and sustainability,” he told msnbc.com.
Or, as Kate Kuykendall, public affairs officer for the Santa Monica Mountains unit, put it: “This is the Park Service walking the walk.”
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.
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