In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, we put together our top recommendations for incorporating environmentally conscious practices into your campground.
We hear a lot these days about campgrounds “going green” and consumers are becoming more invested in businesses that make sustainable choices. While our suggestions below will vary in feasibility based on the size and location of your campground, we hope you can try implementing even one tip from our list to help maintain the great outdoors that make our industry possible. Small steps towards “going green” can for a big impact on the environment and preservation of your property.
1. Upgrade Your Facilities
There are many ways to operate greener campground buildings. Bathroom facilities are a great place to start, seeing as they are highly-trafficked.
- Ditch the ongoing expense of refilling your paper towel dispensers by installing hand dryers and produce less trash in the process.
- Upgrade your outdated plumbing with conservative retrofits, such as dual flush toilets and low-flow plumbing, to conserve water.
- Install motion-activated sensors on faucets to reduce germs and dripping spouts.
- Replace all light bulbs with efficient LED lighting.
While these fixes require an upfront investment, campers will love the modern fixtures and you will love the long-term cost savings on your supply and water bills. Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ at Kozy Rest (one of our customers and the 2018 & 2019 ARVC Plan-It Green Award recipient) successfully changed to motion-activated faucets and lights, high-efficiency toilets, energy-saving tankless water heaters, and a solar-heated swimming pool.
If your property has a rustic camping or hike-in-only area, porta-potties provide a basic convenience without a permanent investment or need to clear out space in a remote natural area. You can also upgrade your outdoor space through xeriscaping for example, which is a style of landscape design requiring little or no irrigation. By strategically landscaping — planting native species that require less water and creating rock gardens — you can conserve water and reduce ongoing labor. Above all, do what’s appropriate and feasible for your property while making incremental improvements.
2. Provide Recycling & Compost Options
When vacationing, it’s not always convenient for travelers to responsibly dispose of the single-use items and trash they’ve accumulated. One simple way to have a positive impact and keep the mess from piling up around your park is to provide waste sorting options. To make things easier, only provide sorting options that line up with your locality’s waste collection capacity and guidelines. Some local governments do this better than others, such as this clever campaign in Michigan to recycle better that’s led by a band of raccoons. If recycling options are limited in your area, do your best to start with the basics, like separating plastics and returnable cans/bottles from landfill waste. Your park’s community garden and soil could benefit, too, through the collection of campers’ compostable waste, such as coffee grounds, banana peels, and newspaper.
In the spirit of raccoons recycling, you can also get creative with your campground’s recycling program. Incentivize young rangers to pick up around your campground by rewarding them with special pins or stickers. Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ in Williamsport, Maryland recycles all of its aluminum cans through a local non-profit to benefit people with developmental disabilities. When it comes to recycling, there’s no better place to start than somewhere.
3. Tap Into Renewable Energy
Switching to solar can begin as simply as with solar-powered landscape lights along your paved walkways at night. Many states have rebate programs to incentivize homeowners and businesses to install solar panels, such as this Californian initiative. One of our customers in Ohio, Clay’s Park Resort, made smart changes a decade ago to go greener, including installing solar panels to heat the water in their indoor swimming pool and changing their pool sanitization system from chlorine to saline. They also replaced their offices’ propane heating system with a wood-burning stove fueled by their tree and lawn clippings. Customers took note of these changes and appreciated the park’s efforts. Aside from attracting customers through sustainability, the economic benefits of solar installations can pay for themselves in no time, like this resort that reported a reduction in its electricity bill from nearly $20,000 to under $20 in a busy month. There’s also this park with 14,000 solar panels that now produces over one million kilowatt hours of clean energy each year.
4. Promote Responsible Campfires
Bonfires are a mainstay of the camping tradition. But as Smokey the Bear has taught us, there are right and wrong ways to manage a campfire. In 2018, 89% of wildfires were caused by humans. The recent California wildfires are a testament to how devastating unchecked flames can be. First, research any time-based fire restrictions in your area on a regular basis and penalize any violations to reduce the temptation for guests to start fires on your property. If you allow fires at individual campsites, provide secure fire rings. Consider tying an old milk jug or plastic bucket to each site marker so that campers can fill it with water to safely extinguish their embers. If you sell firewood onsite, make a point to educate campers on why they must buy from you and should never cut live branches or transport firewood from foreign sources into new ecosystems. These reasons include the risk of introducing invasive species, like the emerald ash borer, and destroying the homes of local wildlife. Post other signage around your property to remind campers not to burn any trash, food, or dangerous items such as aerosol cans — lest they end up attracting Smokey himself!
5. Switch to a Paperless Reservation System
We’re slightly biased with this tip, but imagine all of the notebooks and graphite you will save by switching to an online reservation system like Campspot! We know change is scary, but trust us; doing nothing is scarier, especially as our population grows and technology advances. You deserve a modern reservation platform — both in terms of the user experience and the environmental benefits. Whether change for you right now means looking into renewable energy providers nearby or simply exploring online software providers, what’s important is that you start somewhere.
In the scuba diving community, the common mantra is “take pictures, leave bubbles.” On dry land, this concept is known as “leave no trace.” Whether on a wilderness backpacking expedition or tent camping on your property, campers need to learn to pack out what they pack in and to leave their surroundings better than they found them. According to the Center for Outdoor Ethics, 9 out of 10 people in the outdoors are uninformed about their impacts. That’s why your role as a campground owner or employee is so critical to educate guests and enforce the standards that will ensure generations to come can enjoy the great outdoors.
Thank you for doing your part and Happy Earth Day!