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Unicoi State Park recognized for green effort
Unicoi State Park volunteer Tom Thoburn of St. Johns, Fla., recycles some plastic bottles at a recycling station at the park’s campground Tuesday. Unicoi State Park was recently selected for a 2010 Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia Award. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Ten years ago, long before the recent "green movement" caught on, the folks at Unicoi State Park were taking a look at how they could reduce waste.

In 2000, officials began their "Being Green on a Dime" campaign.

"At first, we got assistance from the Sustainability Division of the (Georgia Department of Natural Resources). They really encouraged us to look outside the box to reduce waste," said Ellen Graham, park resource manager.

"Through a series of brainstorming sessions, we came up with a lot of creative ideas."

One of their most unique ideas was using lint from the park's laundry facilities for fire building classes.

"We teach a wilderness survival class, so we like to use materials that students may have readily available at home," Graham said.

"If you put the lint (from cotton only laundry) in
petroleum jelly, it helps the fire burn a little longer. The lint works the same as a cotton ball would."

Park staff also began to shred used,
non-confidential paper and donate it to area animal shelters to be used as bedding for the animals.

The proverbial garbage has not only become treasure at Unicoi in Helen - it has also turned into an award winner.

The park was recently presented with the Innovation Award, which is one of several honors given out as a part of the 2010 Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia Awards.

"Georgia is blessed with abundant natural resources.
It's important to the vitality of our state that we protect these resources for the future," said Gov. Sonny Perdue.

"These (award winners) are leading the way in creating a culture of conservation, and it is my pleasure to recognize them for their accomplishments."

The partnership also awarded honors for land conservation, recycling, advocate of the year and rising environmental stewards.

Over the years, Unicoi officials have implemented a number of water saving ideas such as harvesting rain water and collecting the runoff from the ice machines to water indoor and outdoor plants. So far, their initiatives are successfully helping the park to use less water.

In 2007, the park used more than 11.4 million gallons of water. Last year, the park only used 8.4 million gallons.

Other park conservation initiatives have also included using old uniforms as rags for housekeeping, using e-mail instead of printing in-house communications and reusing plastic bags at the camping store.

"If you go through the park, you can see a lot of our conservation efforts in action. We've gotten a lot of positive feedback from our guests," Graham said.

"Everytime our Green Team gets together, we try to brainstorm new ideas for green initiatives."

Since the park was a bit ahead of the green curve, park officials had to wait a while to implement some of their ideas.

"One of the big things was recycling. When we first started, there weren't any solid-waste recycling options that would work for us. Now, there are community recycling opportunities that we can take advantage of," Graham said.

"Sometimes technology allows us to implement more of our long-range plans and other times we're able to implement them because there are more community opportunities available to us."