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WV State Parks build extensive car-charging network in green initiative

RICK STEELHAMMER | Gazette-Mail photos
The electric car re-charging station at Canaan Valley Resort State Park in Tucker County is one of 10 operated by West Virginia State Parks.
New solar water heating system is used to keep Watoga State Park’s once-icy pool water a mild 80 degrees.
Swimmers have turned out in increasing numbers this summer to take to the warmer waters of Watoga’s solar heated outdoor pool.

As part of a green initiative that includes a switch from incandescent to LED lighting, less mowing and more recycling, West Virginia State Parks is on track to become the nation’s first state parks system to have electric vehicle recharging stations installed at all of its guest lodges.

Nine of West Virginia’s 10 state park lodges already are equipped with at least three Tesla electric vehicle chargers and one EVlink 30- to 80-amp, 240-volt, level 2 dual pedestal universal charging station. North Bend State Park, the remaining lodge park without re-charging units, is expected to have its four charging stations installed by the end of this year.

The recharging stations are available, free of charge, to all electric vehicle drivers, regardless of whether they are state park lodge guests.

“Our lodge parks are spread far enough apart that electric car owners can drive through the whole state by juicing up at state parks along the way,” said Paul Redford, district administrator for lodge and resort parks. “We’re getting people from all over the U.S. stopping at our state parks just to charge up.”

While there is no fee for taking advantage of the state park chargers, that doesn’t mean they don’t generate revenue.

During the time it takes to charge their cars, drivers plugging in at state parks have time to “look around, visit our gift shops, get a bite to eat in our restaurants or decide to spend the night at one of our lodges, either that day or sometime in the future,” Redford said. “The chargers offer great exposure to our state parks system.”

The charging units are now available at Blackwater Falls, Cacapon, Canaan Valley, Chief Logan, Hawks Nest, Pipestem, Stonewall Jackson, Twin Falls and Tygart Lake state parks. Redford said they would be a part of any new state park lodging or cabin development.

West Virginia State Parks’ Sustainability Project traces its roots to the implementation of hospitality coffee service to guests of state park lodges about two years ago.

“A lot of the parks, I noticed, were using Styrofoam products to serve the coffee,” Redford said. “It got me thinking that as state parks, we need to be more cognizant of the environment, and I asked the lodges to go with recyclable paper cups instead.”

At about the same time, Redford learned that Hawks Nest State Park was partnering with a power company to convert the park’s lighting to an energy efficient LED system. When he mentioned switching to recyclable paper cups and LED lights and other possible earth-friendly developments in the state parks system to colleagues in the Department of Environmental Protection, “they asked me if I was interested in a partnership,” he said. “We got a $189,000 grant to start a sustainability project.”

One of the first targets of the project was Pipestem Resort State Park.

“Due to the way it’s built, Pipestem is a real energy hog,” Redford said.

Julie McQuade, Pipestem’s naturalist and activities director, became the point person in an effort to begin switching from incandescent to LED lighting, installing low-flow toilets to reduce water consumption, and initiating a robust recycling program for both guests and park operations.

“We used the grant money to get recycling bins, which the guests expected, and added paper to the materials we recycle,” Redford said. “It’s good for the environment, and it reduces our solid waste costs. Next, we started working with the state Division of Energy, and got a grant to put in one electric car charger at each state park with a lodge.”

The park system’s first car charger was installed last October at Pipestem.

“When Tesla got wind of that, they asked us if we were interested in installing Tesla chargers in our parks, too,” he said. “They gave us three of their re-chargers for each of our 10 lodge parks and covered the cost of their installation.

“Now, other state park systems — most recently, Pennsylvania — are calling to ask for our help in getting their charging systems up and running.”

Meanwhile, in Fayette County, Hawks Nest State Park’s conversion from incandescent lighting to LED is about 85 percent complete and should be finished sometime next year.

“We’re already using 40 percent less energy,” said Assistant Superintendent Joe Baughman. “In our lodge lobby, we took down 38 lights and replaced them with 10 LED lights and still gained more brightness.

“Through a program with Appalachian Power, we get rebates for new LED fixtures, and we’ve been rolling our rebate money into getting more LED fixtures and more rebates.”

Hawks Nest is also expanding the area of its parking lot that is illuminated and is recycling 2,500 to 3,000 pounds of cardboard annually, according to Baughman.

At Watoga State Park in Pocahontas County, the park’s foundation, with help from the county commission, raised enough money earlier this year to buy a solar heating system for the park’s pool, which, according to Sam England, chief of the DNR’s parks and recreation section, “was formerly known as the coldest pool in the state of West Virginia.”

The Watoga State Park Foundation also supplied a pool cover to help retain water heat overnight.

“The pool’s water temperature has been averaging 80 to 81 degrees a day,” England said, which has done much to attract swimmers to Watoga and enhance the pool experience for cabin guests.

“I was there on the third of July — a Monday — and there were 150 people swimming there,” England said.

The state parks chief said this year he challenged state park superintendents to reduce the amount of grass brush being mowed by at least 10 percent to save money on fuel and wear and tear on equipment.

“You don’t need to have a mowed lawn extending all the way to a mature tree stand,” he said.

The areas spared from the mower’s blade “will become meadow habitat, although in some places we have been able to till the soil and plant native wildflower plots that become habitat for bees and other bugs” as well as pleasant to gaze upon.

“It’s good to reduce solid waste and energy costs, but it’s also part of our mission to preserve our natural resources,” Redford said.

Regardless of budget constraints, England said, “these are things state parks should be doing.”

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169, or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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