Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Green at the Inn

Cisterns collect rain to
flush toilets
The crew of the Dragonfly was off the boat and in State College this weekend for Penn State graduation.  Now, on big Penn State weekends it can be hard to find a hotel room.  But we lucked out.  We stayed at a place that was not only comfortable and stylish, it was green.

The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park (opened this past September) is expected to earn the Green Building Council's LEED Gold certification.  It's located on a knoll above Bald Eagle Reservoir, with a stunning view of the water--and also a nestful of baby eaglets in a tree on shore.

The Inn uses a geothermal heating system, energy-efficient lights, solar-heated hot water, and other alternative technologies to keep guests comfortable.  Saturday afternoon, we took the official tour with innkeeper Charlie Brooks.

We started in the breakfast room, where the Stickley-style oak furniture was made from Pennsylvania white oaks grown within 200 miles of the site.

This solar hot-water system uses glass tubes rather
than flat panels

Forest Stewardship Certified lumber was also used to construct the building itself. Bathroom countertops are made of cement mixed with recycled glass.  Light fixtures are energy efficient.

From the breakfast room we trooped to the rear deck, where stylish lawn furniture is made of recycled aluminum.  Below we could see four large cisterns which collect rainwater from one half of the roof--it's filtered and used to flush the toilets, avoiding the use of drinking water for this purpose.  The other half of the roof sends rainwater to old-fashioned rain barrels for use on plantings around the inn.

Finally, we went down to the basement to see the geothermal heating system units and the plumbing for the rooftop solar hot water heater. (It heats enough water for most of the Inn's needs, including laundry).

With America's population aging--and urbanizing--state parks have seen a downturn in camping. Increasingly, people want to enjoy nature only if it comes with a blow dryer and a flat-screen TV. So other state park systems try to lure visitors with resort-style hotels.  The Bald Eagle Inn is Pennsylvania's first foray into this field.  They could have built a conventional hotel.  But they chose one that's energy-efficient, conserving resources, and also educational, showing visitors it's easy to be green.

The facility does have some critics.  It cost 9.6 million to build. Most of the money came from the Keystone Fund, money from the state's real estate transfer tax that is designated for use on park infrastructure improvements. Some environmentalists would prefer to see the money used for land purchases to prevent forest fragmentation, and some are philosophically opposed to development in parklands.  A couple of similar projects at other PA state parks were rejected by voters who wanted their parks wild.

So it will be interesting to see if the Bald Eagle Inn gets a good crop of visitors . . . and also to see what those visitors take away from their stay.

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