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National Parks Clean Up with Alternative Fuels

March 1, 2011 - 11:38am

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Alternative fuel vehicles and advanced vehicle technologies are helping to keep National treasures like Yellowstone National Park in Cody, Wyoming pristine. | Photo by Jeff Gunn

Alternative fuel vehicles and advanced vehicle technologies are helping to keep National treasures like Yellowstone National Park in Cody, Wyoming pristine. | Photo by Jeff Gunn

Blue skies, pristine mountain vistas, endless open space and … choking fumes from motor vehicles? Even though the latter clearly doesn’t belong in our National Parks, maintaining their air quality has become a real challenge. With 275 million tourists visiting our National Parks each year, a tremendous number of personal vehicles and tour buses visit on a regular basis. So how do you balance providing open access and freedom of mobility with limiting pollutants? To address this dilemma, many parks are working to adopt clean alternative fuels, advanced vehicle technologies, and other fuel-saving measures with the help of Clean Cities in the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Program.

The National Parks Service and Clean Cities collaboration has deep roots. Since 1999, the initiative has helped to fund the purchase of low-speed electric vehicles, the installation of electric charging stations, and other alternative fuel vehicles and infrastructure (including biodiesel, compressed natural gas, E85-ethanol, and propane). As a result of industry partnerships, Toyota donated 23 Prius hybrids for rangers to use in five parks, as well as $5 million to support environmental education projects. Similarly, Ford retrofitted Glacier National Park’s classic Red Bus fleet to run on propane, a cleaner, domestic fuel. The buses also free tourists from having to rely on their personal vehicles.

For years Clean Cities coordinators have provided technical assistance and helped to engage industry partners to support these kinds of projects with national parks. Thanks to these partnerships, the entire diesel fleet in Yellowstone National Park now runs on 20 percent biodiesel fuel, some of it from plants grown right in Montana. Recently, Yellowstone worked with both their local Clean Cities coalition and neighboring Grand Teton National Park to carry out an idle reduction campaign. They encourage tourists to turn off their engines when they aren’t moving, whether they’re in a parking lot or stopped in a traffic “wildlife jam.” Likewise, the Commonwealth Clean Cities Partnership in Kentucky worked with Mammoth Cave National Park to adopt a number of alternative fuels for park vehicles, including electricity, propane, ethanol, and biodiesel.

Clean Cities is now building on this foundation with the expansion of several pilot projects. Yellowstone is purchasing two hybrid buses that run on E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) and Grand Teton is replacing several of its ranger vehicles with new hybrids. Mammoth Cave is continuing its dedication to fuel diversity, with five propane school buses, five electric utility vehicles, and two propane-capable pick-up trucks. Each of these parks is also committed to informing the public about their projects and the benefits of alternative fuels. In addition to these pilot projects, Clean Cities is inviting National Parks to work with their local Clean Cities coalitions to develop and submit their own petroleum reduction project ideas. More information is available on the Clean Cities website.

The National Parks are an American treasure, and both Clean Cities and the National Parks Service are devoted to keeping them beautiful.

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