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Camp & conserve: Parks add solar heating, wind turbines, boost recycling

Susan and Scott Bacher stand near the wind turbine they installed at the Carlsbad KOA. The park joins a growing trend toward new environmentally friendly features at campgrounds across the country.  ( COURTESY SCOTT BACHER)

Susan and Scott Bacher stand near the wind turbine they installed at the Carlsbad KOA. The park joins a growing trend toward new environmentally friendly features at campgrounds across the country. ( COURTESY SCOTT BACHER)

Think about summer camping, and roasting marshmallows around a campfire or taking a dip in the lake come to mind.

What about adding wind turbines and solar panels to the picture?

Some New Mexico campgrounds are trying that out, joining a national trend toward more environmentally friendly camping and proving they can do more to go green with solar heating, wind turbines and recycling systems.

At the Carlsbad KOA, owners Scott and Susan Bacher added a wind turbine that generates 5 percent to 10 percent of the power for the park’s main building and a solar water heater to keep their swimming pool warm.

While eco-friendly features cost more to install, Bacher says campers appreciate the additions. He has even had campers from as far as Florida and Nova Scotia, Canada, come to the park because they heard about the wind turbine.

“They really love knowing they’re saving a little bit of ecology along the way,” he says.

Bruce and Bridgette Manakas of the Golden Eagle RV Park 30 miles south of Taos have added eco-friendly features every year since buying the park in 2006.

“Being green is just a good thing to do,” says Bruce Manakas. “We weren’t doing it because it’s the cool thing to do.”

Those features include a solar hot water system used for the laundromat, club room and main building, says Manakas. The park also added solar and LED lighting and switched to green cleaning products, as well as biodegradable plastic and recyclable paper products.

Until recently, the park recycled glass, aluminum, plastic and newspaper on its own. The village of Eagle Nest now plans to install recycling bins, says Manakas.

From June to September, the Golden Eagle RV Park also hosts a Friday Farmer’s Market, which brings locals and campers together to buy products from farmers in northern New Mexico and Colorado, says Manakas.

Small changes add up

Not every green idea involves a new gadget or a major expense.

At the Carlsbad KOA, the Bachers switched from white to brown paper products and are moving to reusable takeout containers for their on-site barbecue dinners. Golden Eagle RV Park offers ceramic mugs to campers instead of paper coffee cups and saves trees with a group chimenea instead of open fires at every campsite.

Some of the most popular green measures at private campgrounds are energysaving lighting and waterefficient faucets and shower nozzles, according to Jeff Crider, spokesman for the Colorado-based National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.

Many parks also install meters that bill RV campers for the power they consume, which encourages people to save energy. Parks in California, Maryland, Vermont and Colorado have added devices that let customers charge electric vehicles.

The association has advocated eco-friendly practices since 2008 with the Plan-It Green Project, which offers a checklist for parks that wish to participate. The practices include adding recycling and compost bins, avoiding chemicals harmful to the environment and using energy-saving lighting and appliances. So far, 100 of the 3,300 member parks have pledged to add elements of the list.

Last year, the association partnered with Woodall’s, a campground directory company, to review and list parks that adopt ecofriendly measures. Parks need to meet at least nine of 18 criteria to make the list. Some green parks are now listed in the Woodall’s directory at woodalls.com. They should be listed on the website gocampingamerica. com by the end of the summer, says Kera Tomlin, director of marketing and communications for the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.

State parks step up

In New Mexico, private campgrounds aren’t the only ones going green.

Since 2007, 13 New Mexico state park facilities have installed solar panels and four more systems will be installed this summer, according to Jodi Porter, public information officer for New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Since 2005, Percha Dam, Elephant Butte Lake, Conchas Lake and Ute Lake state parks have added comfort stations that use passive solar for heating and solar hot water panels.

In 2009, Eagle Nest Lake State Park opened a greenfriendly visitor center that produces as much energy as it uses, due to straw bale construction, passive solar heating and renewable energy from a vertical wind turbine and solar panels.

Green camping tips

* Use a cooler or aluminum bottles instead of plastic water bottles.

* Use reusable canvas instead of plastic bags.

* If traveling in an RV, consider installing energy-efficient lights and on-demand hot water heaters and using eco-friendly cleaning products and nontoxic tank treatments. Some RV owners also switch to smaller rigs that save on gas.

Source: Scott Bacher, Carlsbad KOA; Bruce Manakas, Golden Eagle RV Park

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