National parks along Lake Superior to be first to fully decarbonize –

The five national parks along the Lake Superior shoreline will completely decarbonize buildings and vehicles within four years, a challenging goal meant to match the urgent need for climate action.
The Lake Superior national parks are expected to be the first nationwide to comprehensively decarbonize, which means to eliminate carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
“If you don’t set an ambitious game plan for something like this, then it just doesn’t get done. Part of our interests and part of our private funding interest is we’ve got to get on it and we got to get on it now,” said Tom Irvine, executive director of the nonprofit National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation.
The federally designated “friends” group for the five national parks along Lake Superior already had decarbonization plans in the works when federal infrastructure and inflation reduction money became available. Now the plan to bring those parks completely off fossil fuels is expected to provide a climate action blueprint for other national parks.
“These parks can be a model for the nation for how climate action can be incorporated into our beloved system of national parks,” said U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, what she called “important leadership” from the Midwest.
Three of the Lake Superior national parks are in Michigan: Isle Royale, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising, and Keweenaw National Historic Park in Calumet. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is in Wisconsin and Grand Portage National Monument is in Minnesota.
“The parks are all in sync on doing the work. It’s a top priority,” Irvine said.
A recent engineering study estimates $15 million will be needed to improve efficiencies and replace fossil fuel use with solar energy, batteries, heat pumps, and other technologies. Internal-combustion engine vehicles will be switched to electric vehicles, as well as all-terrain vehicles.
Most of the funding will come through National Park Service budgeting, including new dollars from the Inflation Reduction Act, Great American Outdoors Act, and Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation. Private donations through the five-park foundation will help cover any funding shortfalls.
Among the biggest challenges in the effort is decarbonizing Isle Royale National Park as an island park offshore in Lake Superior, Irvine said.
“It’s probably the most difficult to reach wilderness area in the continental United States, and it is operating off diesel generators,” he said. “It’s kind of incongruous with the park and the missions and the experience that visitors want to have when they go to Isle Royale, to hear diesel generators roaring in the morning and in evenings. It’s been a priority of the park for years to do something about that.”
Denice Swanke, Isle Royale superintendent, confirmed mitigating climate-related vulnerabilities in parks in a National Park Service priority.
“The five Lake Superior parks are thrilled to be part of this collaborative partnership to invest in clean energy solutions,” she said in a written statement.
Plans call for 81 buildings at Isle Royale to be retrofitted for heat pump water heaters and LED lighting, along with a 1,500-kilowatt off-grid solar array with 695-kilowatt capacity battery storage. Seven utility task vehicles will be replaced with EVs and accompanying charging stations.
At Pictured Rock National Lakeshore, 15 buildings will similarly be retrofitted, and a 112-kilowatt solar array will be connected to the grid without battery storage. One or two additional and smaller off-grid solar arrays will be built, and all gas or diesel vehicles will be swapped out with EVs.
Officials at Keweenaw National Historic Park – where visitors can learn about the region’s 7,000 years of mining history – will retrofit six buildings and develop one 331-kilowatt solar array connected to the grid without battery storage. They also will change out an estimated four vehicles to EVs.
The parks in Wisconsin and Minnesota will have similar improvements, with Apostle Islands National Lakeshore expected to build out upward of a dozen smaller-sized solar arrays.
The five-park plan also calls for a couple parks to negotiate buying renewable energy from utilities instead of fossil fuel-generated power.
Related articles:
No longer a hidden gem, Pictured Rocks inundated with record tourists
Isle Royale National Park ferry fees to increase in 2023
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to raise entrance fees January 1
The most colorful way to see Pictured Rocks is from the water
Wolf population doubles: More pups, new packs on Michigan’s remote Isle Royale
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