Oconaluftee Visitor Center to be environmentally friendly

Monday, March 2, 2009

As reported here last week, officials recently announced that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has completed an Environmental Assessment on the potential impacts of constructing a new visitor center at Oconaluftee, and have issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). This decision clears the way for construction of a new state-of-the art visitor center, which will be adjacent to the existing facility on Newfound Gap Road, roughly 2 miles inside the Park’s Cherokee, North Carolina Entrance.

Some interesting new details about the construction of the new facility were released on the Park's website today.

Dale Ditmanson, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent, is quoted in the press release, saying "The new Center is also being designed be as energy efficient and sustainable as we can make it. We are building it to be nationally certified as an environmentally friendly building under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system."

The press release lists some of the environmentally friendly measures that will be explored in design of the new center. They are as follows:

Geothermal Heat and Cooling: The heating and cooling system will take advantage of the constant 55 degrees temperature of the earth, by pumping water into the ground through tubing where it will gain or give off heat, increasing the efficiency of the system.

Passive Solar: The orientation of the building and the select placement of windows will allow plenty of sunshine into the building and also provide heat. Working with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Park has taken solar measurements where windows are to be placed, to be sure they are sized correctly, to allow just the right amount of light, and offset the need for heat.

Rain Water Cistern: A cistern will be used to collect rain water from the roofs. The water will be filtered and then used to flush toilets.

Water Saving Fixtures: Bathroom fixtures will use waterless urinals and water saving faucets and toilets.

Recycled Materials: Everything from roofing materials, to cabinets, siding, and structural supports will be made of recycled materials.

Landscaping: Native plantings will be used that will not require extensive watering after they become established.

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