At 5,946 feet above sea level, Grandfather Mountain towers above Northwestern North Carolina as a beacon for the environmental aspirations of the region’s population. Open to the public as a scenic travel attraction and nature preserve for more than five decades, the mountain is permanently protected from development and is a unit in the United Nations’ international network of biosphere reserves.

solar panels

Because it is covered in 3,000 acres of trees and shrubs, Grandfather Mountain could probably offset the carbon footprint of a couple of thousand people per year. But because of the company’s desire to lead the way in all things ecological, the management wants the nature park to be even greener.

Consultants from the Department of Technology at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, were brought in to conduct a survey of Grandfather Mountain’s energy usage. From that, the consultants developed a plan for the greening of Grandfather that combined suggestions for reducing consumption with ideas for how the park could generate its own green power.

The first steps toward making Grandfather greener involved establishing recycling stations, replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, enrolling Grandfather in the High Country Biofuel Cooperative, and converting the restaurant to biodegradable plates and utensils.

The green team then installed air stratification fans in the Nature Museum that gently keep air moving to prevent heat from collecting in the building’s cathedral ceilings. The fans move the warm air down for a more even floor-to-ceiling temperature, thereby reducing energy use, eliminating hot and cold spots, and increasing personal comfort for guests in the building.

Another step in the greening process was for Grandfather to start generating power of its own. They installed an array of photovoltaic cells that produce seven kilowatts of electricity per month which is sold directly into the power grid. Grandfather hopes over time to expand the number of photovoltaic cells to produce 50 kilowatts of electricity a month.

fudge shop

The showpiece for the company’s commitment to sustainable practices is the fudge shop that opened in July. The building relies on skylights to provide natural light (reducing the need for electric lighting), uses energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs when necessary, has eco-friendly bamboo floors, uses rainwater collected from the roof to water the garden, and has solar-thermal panels on the roof that produce hot water for the kitchen and radiant heat for the building.

A further expression of their commitment to the health of the environment came when the green team decided to set up the mountain’s own bee hives, noting that the presence of bees is necessary for a well-balanced ecosystem.

“Grandfather Mountain has always been a leader in environmental advocacy and education,” said State Park Ranger Luke Appling, formerly Grandfather Mountain’s Green Manager.  “It is our responsibility to not just teach others but to follow green business practices ourselves.”

Grandfather Mountain is a 3,000-acre nature park famous for its 360-degree vistas, native wildlife habitats, and Mile High Swinging Bridge. The attraction is located on US Highway 221, two miles north of Linville, NC, and one mile south of the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 305. For more information phone 800-468-7325 or plan a trip at www.grandfather.com.