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In Brief

Driving U.S. National Parks Forward

20 June 2012

Lake reflecting mountain range behind it (U.S. National Park Service)

With 275 million tourists visiting U.S. national parks each year in cars and tour buses, maintaining air quality in these treasured places is a major challenge. Learn how a partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. National Park Service is helping to address the problem.

When visitors come to Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park (seen here), they want to enjoy blue skies, pristine mountain vistas and crystalline lakes. But with 275 million tourists visiting U.S. national parks each year in cars and tour buses, maintaining air quality in these treasured places has become a real challenge.

One promising solution is the U.S. Energy Department’s partnership with the U.S. National Park Service to increase the efficiency and alternative-fuel use of vehicle fleets at national parks throughout the country.

Through its Vehicle Technologies Program’s Clean Cities project, the Energy Department is working with Grand Teton National Park, Mammoth Cave National Park and Yellowstone National Park to encourage the use of advanced-technology vehicles and to implement other measures that reduce local air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, fuel costs and reliance on foreign oil. The partnership not only reduces the environmental footprint of park rangers, but also offers visitors a “greener” mode of transport to the parks’ attractions, thus reducing visitors’ reliance on their own cars.

On June 19, the Energy Department announced that five additional parks have joined the partnership: Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Mesa Verde National Park. Each is collaborating with a local Clean Cities coalition to choose the best clean options for its vehicle fleet.

These choices, which include electric-drive vehicles, alternative fuels and vehicle-idling reduction, “are as diverse as the parks themselves,” said the Energy Department.

Historian Wallace Stegner once described America’s national parks as “the best idea we ever had,” and the Energy Department’s partnership with the National Park Service can help ensure that America’s best idea keeps getting better.