Mammoth Cave Focuses on Fuel Economy

This is a text version of the Clean Cities TV segment Mammoth Cave Focuses on Fuel Economy, which aired on November 28, 2012.

HOST: Mammoth Cave National Park has enjoyed an outstanding relationship with the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition for over a decade, and it's been a very productive relationship in terms of converting us to a 100% fuel efficient fleet and alternative fuels, and we look forward to continuing that relationship in new projects.

Mammoth Cave. With nearly 400 miles of explored territory and many more lurking in the unknown, it is the longest known cave system in the world. Because the vast limestone formations are so readily affected by activities above ground, 52,830 acres of land above the cave system were designated as a national park in 1941 to preserve this geological treasure. Estimated by geologists to be almost 10 million years old, Mammoth Cave is the natural habitat to the rare blind cave shrimp, and together with the park, harbors a great variety of threatened, endangered, and state listed species of wildlife, including bats, birds, crustaceans, fish, mussels, plants, and reptiles. Located in the heart of Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists and nature lovers every year. Realizing the importance of preserving the natural beauty and diverse life of the park for present and future generations to enjoy, management and all those involved with the park have made it a mission to do just that.

PAT REED: In an average year we have close to 800,000 visitors that come to Mammoth Cave National Park. About 500,000 of those will come through our visitor's center facility here, and of that 500,000 about 400,000 we will actually take on ranger-led cave tours in the cave. So it's a significant number of people and we have a great opportunity to talk to them about environmental related issues, about how we can have a smaller footprint on the environment, and we stress this in all of our educational programming that we do in the cave tours that we take into Mammoth Cave National Park.

In order to minimize the impact of human presence and park operations on the environment while still making it possible for these hundreds of thousands of visitors a year to marvel at the park's wonders, precautions and adjustments have been made to activities and equipment to ensure the park's safety. High efficiency LED lights were installed on cave trails to replace traditional lighting in order to inhibit the unnatural growth of algae along the cave walls. Oil and grit separators were installed to prevent pollutants from parking lot runoff from contaminating the cave below. Even the park's on-site lodging, Mammoth Cave Hotel, strives to adhere to green principles for the sake of preserving the natural resources. About thirty tons of cardboard are recycled each year using the hotel's three compactors.

GREG DAVIS: Forever Resorts operates in forty different parks across the country, so we actually handle the concessions here inside Mammoth Cave National Park. We feel like it's part of our duty in reflecting what we believe on some of the same principles as the National Park Service. So we feel like we're also responsible for being a good steward, and that's why we use green products, that's why we try to do what's right for the environment.

REED: We have a very active environmental education program particularly within the ten county Green River area development district both on site and off site with several thousand children a year. One of the components of that program is climate change, and within those lesson plans they focus on the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources and the effect that has in terms of the carbon footprint and on environmental warming and on climate change.

In 1999 an executive order was issued which required all federal agency fleets to use re-refined oil. Recognizing the significant impact that vehicle emissions can have on the delicate balance of nature, Mammoth Cave National Park considered the new order as a challenge to do more for their unit, and quickly seized the opportunity to adopt alternative fuels into their fleet. With such options being unavailable outside of the park at the time, they decided to partner with the Kentucky Corn Grower's Association, the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition, and Ford Motor Company in order to install ethanol refueling on site. Mammoth Cave National Park was the first unit in the Department of the Interior to do so. The park's 35 flex fuel vehicles utilize E85 on a daily basis.

Shortly after incorporating ethanol into their fleet, Mammoth Cave became the first national park in the Southeast region to use biodiesel in their fleet as well. In 2001 they introduced their 25 diesel vehicles and all service equipment to B20. The park's lawn tractors as well as the ferry boats that carry visitors across the Green River are powered by biodiesel. Unwilling to stop there, they began replacing their gasoline powered buses with propane powered buses.

REED: Of the 400,000 people that go through cave tours at Mammoth Cave National Park, probably over 200,000 of those are transported on our bus system that goes to alternative cave entrances other than the historic entrance which they walk to. And these are all taken on propane powered buses that are operated by our concessionaire Forever Resorts. And as a part of that experience too they learn about the fact that these vehicles are propelled by propane and not gasoline and that they are cleaner burning and that they are more energy efficient and a better environmentally sensitive vehicle than the gasoline vehicles that we used to operate in the park.

DAVIS: The only thing we experienced when we first made the conversion, for a short period of time until the engines became clean, we noticed that the mileage did drop to about four miles per gallon. Of course, after the engines became clean, the fuel mileage went back up to the same rate it was when we were using gasoline.

Encouraged by the reliable performance of their alternatively fueled vehicles and continuing to evaluate their fleet operations, management determined that low-speed electric vehicles also had a place in their day-to-day needs, primarily in campground operations. Considering all aspects of their operations and hoping to make the most of their green fleet, Mammoth Cave National Park and Forever Resorts reached out to local vendors for their alternative fueling needs.

MARK RICH: One of the missions of the green initiative is to support sustainability and we view the more things we can buy locally supporting that mission. If you buy it locally, there's not as much transportation cost, there's not as much fuel use. So here at Mammoth Cave National Park we have a very active alternative fuel program, we use E85, E10, we have biodiesel, propane, and we try to get all these locally, we get our ethanol products from Mt. Washington, KY just up the road from A&M, we get our gas locally from Ferrellgas company, and in fact Mammoth Cave was the first unit in the Department of the Interior to be 100% alternatively fueled.

In 2010, a partnership was announced between the US Department of Energy and the US Department of the Interior that features advanced technologies and alternative fuel expansion. Mammoth Cave and Yellowstone Grand Teton National Parks were chosen to launch this partnership. The U.S. Department of Energy has committed over one million dollars funding vehicle procurement and establishing an education and outreach program other national parks can duplicate.

REED: We're engaging in a new partnership with the Department of Energy between them and Mammoth National Park that will expand the fleet that we have here to replace some of the propane vehicles that we have here with new, more energy efficient ones, and replace some of our gasoline pickup trucks with propane pickup trucks and the addition of several electric vehicles that will work in our campgrounds and the rest of our park operations with our visitors. Mammoth Cave National Park is very proud of its alternative fuel program, and even though many other good things are being done within the National Park System, we believe this particular partnership with the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition and the Department of Energy serves as an excellent example for all of the 393 units within the National Park System.