0408unicoiaudUnicoi Lodge manager Jerry Brown talks about the state park’s environmental initiative.
Georgia’s state parks already have a reputation for being "green," but now they’re taking it a step further.
The seven parks that have lodges, including Unicoi near Helen and Amicalola near Dawsonville, have become "bronze level" partners with the Georgia Pollution Prevention Assistance Division (P2AD). Each has compiled a list of environmental goals and is working toward them one by one.
"Each park creates its own ‘green team,’ and we provide technical assistance," said Suzanne Burnes, program manager for P2AD.
She said Unicoi is further along in the process than the other parks. But that may be because Unicoi got a head start.
"We did an assessment in 2002 to look at things we could do more efficiently," said Jerry Brown, manager of the lodge at Unicoi State Park.
Over the past couple of years, environmental awareness and innovation have greatly increased, making it easier to change.
For example, compact fluorescent light bulbs are more widely available and much better designed than they used to be. Energy-wasting incandescent bulbs have now been replaced by CFLs in all of the lodge rooms at Unicoi and Amicalola.
Unicoi Lodge has about 100 rooms, and each had seven to 10 incandescent bulbs. The new CFLs use very little energy, and they last so long that employees will rarely have to spend time replacing burned-out bulbs.
"You can save up to $44 over the lifetime of a CFL. And they generate almost no heat, so you use less air conditioning," said Susan Baker, spokeswoman for Habersham Electrical Membership Corporation.
Habersham EMC is Unicoi’s energy provider, and when the company learned about the park’s initiative, it donated 200 CFLs to the project.
Unicoi is also buying "Green Power" credits to support renewable sources of energy, in order to compensate for the greenhouse gases emitted by power plants when the park uses electricity.
"Unicoi State Park is our biggest Green Power supporter," Baker said.
Customers pay an extra $4 per month for one "block" of Green Power. The EMC only allots one block per electric meter. But because Unicoi has 51 meters, it can buy 51 blocks each month.
"We started doing it about a year ago," Brown said.
The park can justify the extra expense because it’s saving money through some of its other conservation measures. Its water bills have diminished after switching to low-flow showerheads and faucets in the lodge rooms and waterless urinals in the public restrooms.
Some other tactics for conserving water haven’t required installing new fixtures. For instance, after conferences, unused water from pitchers and drinking glasses is saved for irrigation.
Unicoi is also planning to buy a 500-gallon container to collect water from rain gutters, something Amicalola is already doing.
As for electricity, Unicoi expects to reap big savings next year when it installs new air-conditioning units in all of the lodge rooms. Brown said they will have an automatic temperature control system that adjusts itself when no one is in the room.
"There are some upfront costs for becoming green, but in the long run you save money," Brown said. "We were a little skeptical at first. That’s why we brought in P2AD."
Unicoi also is reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills. Individual bottles of shampoo and soap in the lodge rooms have been replaced by bulk dispensers attached to the wall. Scrap paper is recycled into memo pads. Food waste from the restaurant is composted into mulch and used on flower beds throughout the park.
At Amicalola, park manager Bill Tanner said the staff is evaluating cleaning products to see if they can switch to brands that are less toxic.
"And we’re going to investigate purchasing Green Power," he said.
On Friday, Amicalola staff will meet with P2AD consultants for their "gap assessment."
"That’s the gap between where we are and where we want to be (in terms of environmental conservation)," Tanner said.
But Amicalola has seen measurable progress. Almost 700 light bulbs have been replaced by CFLs in the park’s 56 lodge rooms and 14 cottages.
"And we’ve gone back to the low-flow showerheads," Tanner said. "We had them years ago when the lodge first opened. Guests back then actually complained. They felt they weren’t getting a decent shower. But the newer products are much better."
Burnes said she hopes the changes will inspire guests to start their own environmental initiatives at home.
"It’s an incredible opportunity to educate every visitor who comes through the park," she said.