Eco-design in Denali

Page by Oliver Scofield

Sustainable Features

Environmental Assessment

Due to it’s standing as one of the leading environmental protection agencies, you would think that the National Park Service (NPS) would be one of the prominent groups in eco-friendly design. While they are not the best example of green building and infrastructure, they are actually doing a decent job at incorporating these practices into their construction and, more importantly, their mission. There are a number of federal laws that make any new construction in the parks a difficult and long process, therefore, many buildings that could be built or made sustainable are not because of either their historical value or because of the impacts of construction. However, with several of its new visitor centers, the NPS has taken ecological design into consideration and into the buildings. The Craig Thomas Visitor Center in Grand Teton National Park is an example of this. Built in 2007, this attraction incorporates several green designs. However, with its 2008 completion of the Eielson Visitor Center in Denali National Park, the NPS took the idea of sustainability to a whole new level.

The Eielson Visitor Center is run almost entirely from solar and hydropower. A propane generator occasionally augments a small turbine in a nearby stream and several Photovoltaic panels on the south side of the building for the entire complex’s energy. The materials used for construction were recycled, local and sustainably harvested whenever possible. The water used in the facilities is minimal and is released into a new leachfield that disturbs less than half an acre of the tundra. The building itself has a low profile as it is dug into a hillside and the tundra removed for its installation has been partially replaced as a green roof. The interior is designed so that minimal energy is needed for heat and light; large south facing windows do well at preforming both tasks. At the time of its completion, the Eielson Visitor Center was the only structure in the Park System to be LEED certified platinum.

The two documents provided at the top detail the different methods of eco-design utilized in the new building and the process of the construction/design/ implementation. The first document is a short official review of the features I mentioned above. The second is the much more in depth official NPS project proposal and environmental assessment. This report shows how much work and time goes into projects like these: the number of different assessments, the legal side of development, the numerous alternatives for reconstruction, the impacts or concerns of construction (for each alternative), and the final decisions and recommendations based on the findings. However, the most important thing that this document reveals is how, even with several other options, the NPS chose to rebuild and to rebuild in a sustainable manner. As the New York Times article demonstrated, the parks are the first areas to start this process of creating our sustainable futures. And if they can do it, the rest of the world may soon follow.

Photo Credit: Beth and Rich Seeley

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