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Around The Parks: Solar Power At Death Valley, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Tamiami Trail Through The Everglades


The solar photovoltaic system Xanterra Parks & Resorts had installed at Death Valley 5 years ago has really proved to be an energy generator. Kurt Repanshek photo.

Solar power at Death Valley National Park, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin, and the Tamiami Trail that crosses the Everglades are just some of the items in our roundup of what's going on in the National Park System.

Powering Death Valley

Approaching its five-year anniversary, the solar photovoltaic system national park and resort concessioner Xanterra Parks & Resorts installed in Death Valley National Park has produced more than 10 million kW and met the company’s goal of reducing purchased electricity by 30 percent.

The one megawatt (MW) system was completed in June 2008 and covers five acres within Furnace Creek Resort which includes the historic Inn at Furnace Creek, Ranch at Furnace Creek and Furnace Creek Golf Course as well as employee offices and housing.

“Our solar PV system has been a true workhorse as it harnesses the sun’s energy practically every day of the year,” said Karin Swarbrick, director of sustainability for Furnace Creek Resort. “While the energy it produces is impressive, what is equally important is what is not being produced.”

Since the system went online, it has prevented the production of 665,000 tons of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions, which is the equivalent of the amount of emissions created by driving 690,000 miles. To counteract that amount of emissions, close to 8,000 trees would need to be planted.

Xanterra’s facility is one of the largest privately owned PV energy systems in the country and the largest in the U.S. tourism industry. Xanterra fully owns the system and the energy it produces.

The system tracks the sun throughout the day and was specially designed to withstand the harsh conditions of Death Valley. It produces enough energy to power more than 400 average-sized American homes for decades. During the day the system is reducing electricity usage of the entire property by up to 60 percent. The electricity feeds directly into the electric grid instead of batteries.

The elaborate system is situated in a secluded area surrounded by the Furnace Creek Golf Course. The company took steps to ensure that construction of the solar PV system was as environmentally sound as possible.

Xanterra relocated more than 144 date palm trees to make room for the system of 5,740 solar panels. Although the trees are not indigenous to Death Valley – they were planted by the Pacific Coast Borax Company in the 1920s – Xanterra was committed to preserving as many trees as possible because of their historical significance and because the trees serve as habitat for area wildlife. Vegetative debris was mulched and used around the perimeter of the site for dust control, and date palms that could not be relocated were reused for landscaping.

Xanterra contracted with SPG Solar Inc. of Novato, Calif. for the installation. SPG Solar has installed more than 500 commercial and residential PV systems tied to electric grids.

Broadcasting The Ice Age National Scenic Trail

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is the star of the next episode of Discover Wisconsin, the longest running tourism show in the United States. This episode airs throughout the Midwest April 20-21.

Host Emmy Fink explores the 12,000-year-old natural wonder while taking viewers through Baraboo, Verona, Janesville and Whitewater. This is the third of four episodes focusing on the trail and will reach more than 250,000 viewers across the upper Great Lakes region, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Northern Illinois and Upper Michigan.

"By partnering with Discover Wisconsin, we’ve been able to show the beautiful Ice Age National Scenic Trail to viewers across the Midwest - an audience we hope will come visit the trail and the communities it connects,” said Mike Wollmer, executive director of the Ice Age Trail Alliance. “We also hope people understand the amount of work and volunteer hours it takes to complete the trail and keep it maintained."

Much of Wisconsin was covered by a massive glacier during the Ice Age and some of the best evidence is found in Wisconsin’s lakes, river valleys, rolling hills and ridges. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail was established in 1980 and stretches across nearly 1,200 miles.

“For families in search of a healthful retreat with beautiful scenery, this is it,” said Chad Diedrick, managing producer for Discover Wisconsin. “A 1,200-mile footpath — entirely within Wisconsin —provides amateur and experienced hikers alike access to some of the state's most serene natural areas along with great communities to stop and visit along the way.”

As the nation’s longest running tourism program, Discover Wisconsin can be seen statewide on Fox Sports North (FSN) Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. For more on this and other episodes or the broadcast schedule in other areas please visit

President's Budget Calls For $30 Million For Tamiami Trail

President Obama's FY14 budget proposal calls for $30 million to be appropriated for the next step in building bridges along the Tamiami Trail to improve water flows through the Everglades.

“We are thrilled by the Obama Administration’s recognition of the importance for advancing America’s Everglades with today’s release of the FY2014 Presidential Budget that proposes $95.5 million for the Department of the Interior, including $30 million for Tamiami Trail Next Steps bridging," John Adornato, the Sun Coast regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said last Wednesday after the president's budget was released.

“Historically, Tamiami Trail has obstructed freshwater flow into the Everglades since its construction in 1928, acting like a dam and blocking critical water flows back to its natural path, south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay," he added. "Today’s proposed funding levels will help bridge Tamiami Trail an additional 5.5 miles, which is vital to protecting critical habitat, restoring historic water flows into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, and ensuring America’s Everglades will be preserved for future generations.

“America’s Everglades is one of the world’s most diverse and productive wetlands and is a tremendous economic generator. According to the National Park Service, Tamiami Trail Next Steps bridging will bring an estimated 3,700 jobs to the state, many of which are in the hard-hit construction sector. So far, these direct economic benefits are in addition to those from constructing the first one-mile bridge, which was completed last month, creating more than 1,200 jobs in two years. For every dollar invested in Everglades restoration, $4 is generated in economic benefits to the public.

“We celebrate the President’s commitment to advancing the construction of an additional 5.5 miles of bridging on Tamiami Trail and urge Congress to support strong funding for Tamiami Trail Next Steps bridging.”


I'm curious what the cost per kilowatt produced is, compared to purchased electricity. I'd like to see included the cost of construcion of the farm and the expected lifespan. If solar works anywhere it ought to work in Death Valley.

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