Decarbonize the Parks: A Nation-Leading Transition to Clean Energy
On January 28, 2023 the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation made a big announcement: the five national parks along the lake in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin will be the first in the country to comprehensively decarbonize their buildings and vehicles through a new initiative, Decarbonize the Parks.
Together, the five parks—Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Grand Portage National Monument, Isle Royale National Park, Keweenaw National Historic Park, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore—are creating a powerful model for other parks and the public to follow.
"The five National Parks along the lake in the three states that share Lake Superior are treasured public lands and the Decarbonize the Parks project is part of a bold vision for protecting the environment around the Great Lakes," said Minnesota’s U.S. Sen. Tina Smith who helped announce the project. "These parks can be a model for the nation for how climate action can be incorporated into our beloved system of National Parks, demonstrating important leadership from Minnesota and the Midwest.”
"These parks can be a model for the nation for how climate action can be incorporated into our beloved system of National Parks, demonstrating important leadership from Minnesota and the Midwest.” – U.S. Senator Tina Smith
A new engineering study estimates $15 million will be needed to increase efficiency and replace fossil fuel with solar, batteries, heat pumps, and other proven technology, ultimately costing the parks less than maintaining current operations. Much of the funding will be available from federal resources through the National Park Service. However, moving the project forward will require active leadership from NPLSF and support from a network of partners.
“Lake Superior it is one of the fastest-warming lakes in the world, with declining cold-water fisheries, unstable lake ice, and violent storms that have battered docks and marinas as well as light houses and other treasured resources,” said NPLSF Executive Director Tom Irvine. “With cost-effective solutions and funding opportunities currently available, now is the time to rise to the climate challenge and demonstrate the importance of environmental stewardship.”
“With cost-effective solutions and funding opportunities currently available, now is the time to rise to the climate challenge and demonstrate the importance of environmental stewardship.” – NPLSF Executive Director Tom Irvine
The NPLSF-commissioned report by Willdan and Energy and Environmental Economics, Inc. (E3) outlines the path to decarbonization for each park NPLSF will be working with park superintendents and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe), a co-steward at the Grand Portage National Monument and Isle Royale National Park, to begin implementation this year.
In addition to governmental, tribal, and philanthropic partners, the project was catalyzed by a key early private sector investment from Askov Finlayson.
“Lake Superior is a national treasure, and Askov Finlayson is proud to be the seed investor in this project and to support NPLSF’s bold vision for 100% decarbonization,” said Eric Dayton, Founder and CEO of Askov Finlayson. “Our mission as a company is to Keep The North Cold, and solving the climate crisis means acting now to reduce emissions. It’s exciting to be part of climate leadership in our own backyard that can hopefully serve as a model that inspires further action here in Minnesota and across the country.”
The plan is built around off-the-shelf proven technologies that anyone can use in their own homes or businesses. Climate leaders are recognizing the ripple effect of this powerful education opportunity that will inspire more widespread deployment of carbon-reducing solutions.
"Effective deployment of proven technology in place today is a major barrier to progress toward a net carbon-neutral economy," said Michael Noble, executive director of Midwest energy policy organization Fresh Energy. "The Decarbonize the Parks project shows how it can be done, helping millions of visitors recognize that if heat pumps can heat and cool park buildings in a northern wilderness, they can work anywhere – both in and outside the parks."
NPLSF is working to raise continued private investment to maximize the educational and workforce development value of the decarbonization projects, which will include all-electric ATVs, solar, and other fast-growing, affordable zero-carbon strategies.
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About the NPLSF The National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation (NPLSF) exists to provide financial support for projects and programs that preserve the natural resources and cultural heritage of the five Lake Superior national parks: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Grand Portage National Monument, Isle Royale National Park, Keweenaw National Historical Park, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Funded through grants and private donations, NPLSF projects and programs ensure that these great parks and historic sites are maintained for the enjoyment of all current and future visitors.