Story by Julie Johnson
From the famous mile-high bridge, Grandfather Mountain’s 3,300 acres spread across the landscape, their leafy canopy blanketing a wealth of biodiversity nestled in ridges and valleys. In addition to preserving this exceptional landscape, Grandfather Mountain, Inc., is committed to greening all of its man made attractions. From the solar-powered fudge shop to the shade grown, bird-friendly coffee, the park is embracing environmental sensitivity and mindful use of its rich environment.
This September, Grandfather received non-profit status. This is a move that will allow the park the opportunity to pursue large-scale greening of its entire facility. As a corporation, Grandfather Mountain, Inc.’s budget was limited to its commercial production. Its budget was determined by the number of visitors that entered the park and made purchases in the restaurant and gift shop. Even with this constraint, the corporation was able to successfully forge a partnership with The Nature Conservancy. Lands were sold to the Conservancy at half their market value price, with the stipulation that they never be developed. Now, as Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the administrators will be able to seek grants and private donations.
Luke Appling, who plans and manages the green facilities at Grandfather, says “as a corporation, the huge projects we wanted to accomplish, like solar power and thermal heat for the museum and restaurant, were impossible.” Now, though the program is in its infancy, the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation will be able to move towards these goals. The greening will not only make the park more efficient, but will also serve as an educational tool for the visiting public. Penn Dameron, who worked as the Executive Director of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, will lead the program.
The park has already started transitioning its infrastructure. In the fudge shop, wide ceiling skylights almost eliminate the need for electric lighting, even on partly cloudy days. Large rain collectors are positioned at each corner of the building, catching gutter run-off which is used to water the butterfly and hummingbird garden. A pump system on the solar panels heats water, which runs beneath the bamboo floor boards, providing radiant heat for the building in the winter and providing hot water for the taps.
The “Top Shop”, under construction and slated for completion in 2010, is the newest building on Grandfather, and is placed at the foot of the mile-high bridge. Although the site’s altitude makes greening difficult, the building will be as environmentally friendly as conditions permit. The construction was undertaken using LEED standards as loose guidelines. Grandfather’s gusts, which at times can reach up to 100 mph, would rip solar panels off the roof like shingles in a hurricane, but aerodynamically curved skylights reduce the need for the compact florescent indoor lighting. It is constructed of “Grandfather Stone”, quarried from the mountain in the 1950s and recycled from the demolition of the original mile-high shop. Top Shop will have sustainable bamboo flooring, radiant heating and compostable utensils in the food service area.
In conjunction with the statewide ban on plastic containers in landfills that will go into effect on Oct. 1st, Grandfather will begin to phase out plastic drink containers in the park.
As the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation grows, they hope to expand their green infrastructure and use it as a tool to educate their many visitors.