News Column

Conservation In Frederick parks, a battle for conservation

June 2, 2014

By Sylvia Carignan, The Frederick News-Post, Md.

June 02--Environmental stewards on the front lines of the battle against global warming's adverse effects have a message for Frederick County: This is a time for action.

Monocacy National Battlefield is participating in a nationwide program to reduce environmental impact and increase conservation activities in parks.

The National Park Service's Climate Friendly Parks Program started in 2002 in response to former President George W. Bush's call for action on climate change.

Parks across the country have applied for certification by creating climate action commitment plans to reduce emissions, educate the public, educate staff and generally reduce their impact on the environment.

In Frederick County, Monocacy National Battlefield, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, and Catoctin Mountain Park have achieved certification from the program by completing strategies to reduce harmful emissions by a certain year.

Antietam National Battlefield, in Washington County, has also been certified. The park's natural resources manager, Joe Calzarette, described their plan to curb emissions.

"We're attacking it three different ways: fuels, waste and electricity," he said.

The plans for Antietam include commitments to reduce energy use in buildings by replacing lighting with more efficient LED bulbs, reducing waste and changing landscaping plans.

"We're mowing less of the park now; we're letting more fields grow into meadows," Calzarette said.

'We should all do it'

Many of the same practices are already in place at Monocacy National Battlefield in Frederick, where lighting in the visitor center exhibits has switched from hot halogen bulbs to cooler, more efficient LED bulbs.

A three-dimensional map of the 1864 Battle of Monocacy, accompanied by a narration of the battle's events, sits atop a stand on the second floor of the visitor center.

When a visitor hits the play button, small dots of light shine through the map, showing the movements of Union troops across the rural land as they stalled Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early's Confederate soldiers. Specks of yellow light leap between the blue and red as they battle on the field.

The exhibit was powered with 48 halogen bulbs that got so hot they would burn the wiring under the display, Monocacy National Battlefield Facilities Manager Al Kirkwood said.

In 2010, Kirkwood had the halogen bulbs replaced with LED lights, which connect to the top of the display with optical fibers.

Each LED bulb uses about 80 percent less energy than the halogen bulbs, according to Kirkwood.

Light fixtures in the visitor center's offices were also switched from fluorescent tubes to LED panels with a dimmer.

"I'm doing this stuff at home," Kirkwood said. "I think we should all do it."

Changing all the lighting in the park cost about $20,000, he said. As a result, the visitor center is saving about 30,000 kilowatt-hours per year.

The visitor center was built in 2007 without much of an eye on sustainability or energy conservation, Monocacy National Battlefield Superintendent Rick Slade said.

Their efforts began with changing lights because they were "the low-hanging fruit," he said.

In 2009, park staff started to restore a historic building at the battlefield, the 18th-century Thomas House. Making the old house energy-efficient by 21st century standards wasn't easy, Slade said.

"Not wanting to gut and rebuild the building, we wanted to work with the historic fabric," he said.

A geothermal heating and cooling system was installed in the cellar, and the house's fireplaces were sealed off to keep energy costs down.

'New ground'

For each of the local members in the Climate Friendly Parks program -- Monocacy, Antietam, the C&O Canal and Catoctin Mountain Park -- purchased electricity generates the largest portion of the park's greenhouse gas emissions in a typical year.

Emissions from purchased electricity and other sources are calculated by metric tons of carbon dioxide in the National Park Service's plan for each park. The measurement unit includes carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane emissions.

Energy use at Monocacy National Battlefield generated 271 metric tons of carbon dioxide in fiscal year 2008, according to a National Park Service report.

Monocacy National Battlefield has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy use by 10 percent from 2008 to 2016.

In fiscal year 2011, total emissions from park operations, employee commuting and visitors at Catoctin Mountain Park was about 1,800 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

About 16 percent of those emissions were generated by visitors.

Catoctin Mountain Park's sustainability and environmental conservation plan pushes nonvehicle transportation for visitors in the park, and upgrades staff vehicles to hybrid or electric.

Superintendent J. Mel Poole said they are considering installing three $2,700 electric car charging stations at the Thurmont park for visitors and staff to use.

"This is new ground for the Park Service," Poole said.

The project is supported by the Department of Energy's Clean Cities grant, which will pay for three Chevy Volt vehicles, the charging stations and three propane-powered lawnmowers for the park.

According to Poole, the National Park Service is working on a set of guidelines for public car charging stations, which may delay their installation at Catoctin.

Park staff are also looking at solar and geothermal systems, but with the mountain almost completely forested, solar might not be a viable option.

"Our long-term goal, just like everybody else, is to just completely get off the grid as much as we can," Poole said.

At Monocacy, solar panels are the pie in the sky, Slade said. Park staff are considering installing solar panels atop the visitor center's green roof, but funding will have to be determined.

In the meantime, Slade said he'd like to put up signs around the park to educate visitors about the changes they're making. A sign near some of the battlefield's open green spaces would explain why the grass is a little higher than usual -- and that mowing generates emissions that are harmful to the environment.

"It's about an overall information campaign for the public, for them to know we take climate change seriously," Slade said.

A Department of Defense review, published in March, calls climate change a "significant challenge."

"As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating," the report states.

'This is the time'

For environmental stewards such as the National Park Service and the National Wildlife Foundation, monitoring and adaptation has always been part of the job.

"Things are going to change in the environment all the time," Calzarette said. "Whether you can pit it to climate change is a little tougher."

Calzarette said what's most important is getting information out about how to preserve and understand the environment.

Each of the local parks in the Climate Friendly Parks program plans to educate staff and visitors.

A May 2014National Wildlife Foundation report about smart conservation highlights an "emerging discipline," climate change adaptation. Those who work closely with nature should consider how to respond to and prepare for the impact of climate change, it states.

"The sooner we begin taking meaningful adaptation action, the more successful these efforts will be," the report states.

As one of those environmental stewards, Slade agrees.

"This is the time to make the change," he said.

Follow Sylvia Carignan on Twitter: @SylviaCarignan.


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