Saturday, November 27, 2021
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Bright horizon: How partnership improves sustainability in Glacier Park

by Doug Mitchell and Richard Marino
| November 14, 2021 12:00 AM

Unless you happened to visit the headquarters building at Glacier National Park during a handful of days in June, you would have no idea about the future-changing work that took place there. When workers and visitors use the building the lights still go on, and the computers work just as they should. The difference is taxpayers get a much smaller bill for electrical service, and the park made another significant stride toward sustainability and energy independence.

So how did this happen, and what does it mean?

In 2012, the National Park Service adopted a Green Parks Plan that adopted clear and meaningful goals to create a more sustainable future across the National Park system. That plan, and the 2016 update to the Green Parks Plan, recognized that parks could not and should not do this alone. In his letter unveiling the 2016 updates, then NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis focused on the importance of partnerships writing, “We are committed to working to integrate sustainability principles, actions, and initiatives into existing partnerships and developing and fostering new partnerships to promote sustainability efforts.”

This transformative project, to power the Glacier National Park headquarters building with solar energy, came about as part of one of these new partnerships Jarvis and the Green Parks Plan envisioned. In 2020, Glacier Park submitted a grant request to the Glacier National Park Conservancy, the park’s official philanthropic partner, to place solar panels on the headquarters building. The cost of the entire project would be over $100,000 with 100% of the cost coming from private donations.

As luck would have it, Everybody Solar, also a nonprofit entity, and the Glacier National Park Conservancy had partnered on a pilot project the year before with Everybody Solar installing solar power to provide important ventilation enhancement at the Grizzly Point comfort station on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Although a much smaller project, the seeds were sown for future success.

The mission at Everybody Solar is to protect the environment and strengthen communities by bringing solar energy to nonprofits, so partnering is in the very DNA of the organization. Having successfully partnered with youth centers, tribal nations and museums, Everybody Solar jumped at the chance to stretch its capacity to undertake this critical project here in Glacier Park.

The fundraising goal was daunting; over $100,000 in a short period of time with a short construction window. That’s when another partner joined the landscape and made a decisive commitment in making this idea a reality. The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation stepped forward with a $75,000 challenge grant to match 3 to 1, contributions of up to $25,000 to push the project over the top. A leader in Montana’s philanthropic landscape, the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation invests its resources to better the human condition by supporting programs and services that give people the tools to enhance the quality of their lives and to benefit society as a whole.

Projects like this typically take a year or more to raise adequate funds. In a matter of a few weeks, through both donations to Everybody Solar and the Glacier National Park Conservancy, the full grant amount was raised, including in-kind contributions of hardware came in from companies interested in participating, and Solar Plexus in Missoula installed the system and flipped the switch.

The result of this robust collaborative partnership is that many thousands of dollars formerly budgeted to pay the power bill, can be redirected to other uses within Glacier Park. At the same time, the park makes a significant stride forward to the goal of long term sustainability. This is exactly the kind of partnership Director Jarvis envisioned, and of which we are all proud to have played a role.

Doug Mitchell is the Executive Director of the Glacier National Park Conservancy. Richard Marino is on Chairman of the Board of Directors of Everybody Solar.