A Greener GMC

Posted August 27th, 2008

This is the basement!
How should we measure the carbon footprint of a hiking club? As the Green Mountain Club approaches its 100th birthday as maintainer and protector of Vermont’s beloved Long Trail, should we be worrying more about the ecological impact people have when they drive to trailheads, or more about combating the recent decline in percentage of time children spend outside in nature? On the one hand, hiking and hikers can have a big ecological footprint, and on the other hand, hiking gets people out into the natural world, which increases the likelihood that they will care about it.
I predict that in the coming decades, hikers will find ways that use less fossil fuel to get to trailheads. Carpool coordination, more efficient vehicles, public transport routes, car-swap ride boards for hikers going in opposite directions on point-to-point hikes (remember to swap keys!) … all these are needed, and I believe they are all coming. Meanwhile, GMC is in the same boat as every other organization and household—we have to start somewhere, and it is easiest to start “at home.”
In 1995 the GMC Headquarters planning committee produced a master plan for the club’s Waterbury Center campus, based on a set of guiding principles. The plan was updated in 1998 and then again in 2003, after a catastrophic fire destroyed the historic south barn, which housed GMC’s Marvin B. Gameroff Hiker Center. In the master plan, committee volunteers articulated a strong commitment for GMC to have energy efficient and healthy buildings. On May 9, 2008, ground was broken in the footprint of the old south barn for a “greener” GMC Visitor Center.
The new visitor center is being built with locally-sourced timber coordinated through Vermont Family Forests. The timber-frame building will feature rough-cut lumber, and natural wood sheathing and siding rather than plywood and other engineered building materials. The building’s walls, roof, and foundation will be heavily insulated to reduce heating loads. Windows will be triple-glazed, argon gas-filled to reduce heat loss.
The visitor center’s orientation and window design will balance natural daylight, allowing passive solar heating in winter and minimizing solar gain during summer. Solar balance will be achieved by careful window placement and shade from porch roofs and awnings. Window placement and other natural daylight sources will also minimize the need for electrical lighting. Supplemental lighting will utilize ultra energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.
Low energy use cooling will be achieved by drawing in cool outdoor air when possible. The air conditioning system we plan to use will rely on cold well water to cool the air, using just a fraction of the energy normally used by traditional compressor-based systems. The building will also have a standing-seam roof constructed of a light-colored metal that is reflective and reduces cooling loads.
GMC is also pursuing financial support to allow the inclusion of small-scale, grid-tied solar systems and residential-scale wind systems (thanks to Earth Turbines!) that will allow the visitor center to net-meter any excess electricity we generate. These systems would pump clean electricity into the grid when production is greater than demand, while the electric meter runs backwards. A cordwood-burning boiler will heat the structure and all hot water. Cordwood is a local renewable fuel.
All toilets in the new facility will deposit into a Clivus Multrum M-32 composting toilet system that recycles waste and significantly reduces wastewater discharge. To further conserve water and energy, each of the bathrooms connected to the composter will have a dry urinal for men. Other water conservation measures include low flow showerheads and low flow faucet aerators.
It may be an overstatement to say that the Green Mountain Club is “going green,” but when the new GMC Visitor Center (half way between Waterbury and Stowe, accessed via Cabin Lane) is completed this winter, it will hopefully be a warm and welcoming place for hikers to obtain information, which also casts some green light on hiking in Vermont.
A new publication, long in the works, approaches environmental awareness from a different perspective. The more people know about the natural world, the more likely they are to be stewards of it. GMC has recently published a Nature Guide to Vermont’s Long Trail, by Montpelier teacher and naturalist Lexi Shear.
This guide, which is formatted as a companion to the Long Trail Guide, includes comprehensive descriptions of 215 species, with beautiful color photos to assist with identification. Personally, I look forward to carrying the guide to address one of the recurring questions I ask myself while hiking: “Hmm, I wonder what kind of tree that is?” (Okay, I know the easy ones … ) Anyhow, please buy
one! List price: $21.95. GMC member price: $19.75. Available online at www.greenmountainclub.org. Happy trails!

Ben Rose

Ben Rose is the executive director of the Green Mountain Club, whose mission is to make the Vermont mountains play a larger part in the life of the people by protecting and maintaining the Long Trail System and fostering, through education, the stewardship of Vermont’s hiking trails and mountains. www.greenmountainclub.org