High performance buildings can be described from a variation of commitments, programs, and structural plans that are aimed at creating a low amount of impact to the surrounding environment.
These intentions and goals have positive results on both the ecosystems and human populations in close proximity to these buildings and the grounds they are built on.
Even more so, positive impacts can be observed when we trace things like sources for water and electricity that would have needed to be used had these sustainability efforts not been made.
Five high performance buildings in the Pennsylvania Wilds region are LEED certified.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a program that works through each project, or building, meeting goals and earning points through designs that tackle carbon, energy, water, waste, and other environmental qualities and outputs.
Projects are reviewed, verified, and then earn points. The more points earned the higher the certification and the lesser the impact on both our natural and immediate environments.
Are you surprised to know that our region hosts almost half of all the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ LEED certified buildings? It’s pretty impressive!
Not only is it impressive that these buildings are in the PA Wilds, functioning, and open to visitors, but they are supporting a kind of new age idea that we don’t have to harm the environment in order to be active in it. This is an important aspect of curating sustainable tourism. Nature lovers can know that by visiting these spaces and buildings their interest is not harming the same natural areas they came to admire and support.
High performance energy buildings use less water and energy, they operate on a lower cost, and create less waste to end up in landfills. Plus, people are happier! The tenants and consumers who use and visit these buildings are supporting a system that is designed to operate in the wilderness, running cleaner, and utilizing tons of natural light.
In the PA Wilds region, five LEED certified projects have been highlighted to show the stewardship and environmentalism that is practiced within the region, all of them being DCNR buildings!
The levels of certification work as follows: to be certified a project needs 40-49 points, Silver certification requires 50-59 points, Gold 60-79, and Platinum is anything above 80 points. Points can be earned in a variety of ways – and all points are reviewed and verified.
Let’s break down these buildings and find out what has earned them the title of “High Performance.”
The Kinzua Bridge State Park Visitor Center and Skywalk is located at 296 Viaduct Road, in Mt. Jewett of McKean County. The Kinzua State Park Visitor Center was awarded Silver LEED Certification in 2017. The center opened in 2016 and quickly became a popular destination for many who seek to explore the rich history and fantastic views of the world’s once tallest railroad bridge that is now The Skywalk.
Their construction includes highly efficient insulation, geothermal heating and cooling systems (forcing air into an underground system to maintain indoor temperatures), stormwater management, making the most of natural light (daylighting), and automated lights.
Moving south through the region we start to see other buildings that were designed in the same concepts that have also successfully achieved certification.
For instance the Elk Country Visitor Center, at 134 Winslow Hill Road in Benezette in (suitably enough) Elk County, a design in which from day one has taken into consideration the potential impact such a facility could have on the natural areas that now surround the center, has earned a Gold LEED Certification. Not only do they host an array of sustainable design features, but also educational panels placed throughout the center educating visitors of their efforts.
Both the building and the parking area locations were chosen to minimize the impact that building such a grand facility could potentially have on the surrounding ecosystems. They use energy-efficient materials, solar-oriented windows for warmth and yes, more daylighting. The visitors center main building uses geothermal heating and cooling while the outdoor classroom utilizes a biomass (wood pellet) boiler system. To top it off, rainwater is collected to be used in the restrooms throughout the facility. No wonder they are Certified Gold!
Just a little ways away is the Wildlife Center at Sinnemahoning State Park in Austin (with the park itself straddling Cameron and Potter Counties), found at 4843 Park Road. A LEED Silver Certification was granted to this wildlife center as they instituted geothermal heat, recycled material, rainwater harvesting, and local sourcing of materials into the building design. The 9,300 square foot building has informational panels explaining their designs and positive impacts. There are tons of things to explore at the facility which doubles the Sinnemahoning State Park office.
Visitors come to view the elk, deer, birds, and bear that occupy the area, using the interpretive gallery to learn more about the larger Pennsylvania Wilds region.
On the eastern side of the region near the PA Grand Canyon is the Tiadaghton State Forest Resource Management Center, located at 10 Lower Pine Bottom in Waterville, Lycoming County. This 12,655 square foot facility, completed in 2010, incorporates numerous strategies that support environmental sustainability and energy efficiency.
This facility is a jumping off point for the Pine Creek Rail Trail, a star attraction in the region, and includes 2-D topographical map displays of the entire Pine Creek Valley.
Some of the features that earned the building a LEED Gold Certification include a geothermal HVAC system, specialized roof panel assemblies, extensive use of FSC-certified lumber products, and the use of recycled content for doors, trim, tiles, and more, and DCNR’s first “green roof.” Portable interpretive plaques are available at the counter to walk visitors through various stations featuring the building’s green features.
Lastly, but surely the most dynamic of our list is in Centre County. At 201 Warbler Way you will find The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park. It is a premier lodge crossing boundaries into the hospitality sector, offering guests a chance to participate in the facilities conservation efforts with room energy monitoring that is viewable in each room!
Dedicated to showcasing and conserving the natural area it was built in, those who stay at The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park learn all about the steps taken that have earned the lodge the honor of being voted the #1 Eco-Lodge in the United States by readers of USA Today.
An honorable mention goes to The Pennsylvania Lumber Museum at 5660 US Route 6, in Galeton, Potter County. Although not LEED certified, the building certainly is an example of an energy-smart building that was carefully designed. It only makes sense that this museum be built with locally sourced materials like wood, and that’s exactly what they did.
The museum is dedicated to educating visitors about Pennsylvania’s forests, forest industries, and the large role they’ve played in growing not only the state, but the nation. Those locally sourced materials? They’re on display, in use as countertops and trim; made from hemlock, cherry, and pine that was harvested from the Susquehannock State Forest and cut at the Museum’s on-site sawmill.
The Pennsylvania Lumber Museum also features high-efficiency lighting, daylighting, vapor barriers for efficient insulation, and geothermal heating and cooling.
All of these buildings host variations of the same commitments to our wild areas – to be and do better. Serving as educational centers – doubling as venues, visitors centers, park offices they set the tone of environmental responsibility and give visitors the opportunity to partake in and learn more about the impacts we can make. Expect to see more high performance buildings as investors, planners, and contractors stay on the cutting edge of technology to decrease energy expenses and increase environmental responsibility.
To learn more about High Performance Buildings in the Pennsylvania Wilds visit the PA Wilds energy efficient buildings page.
Kalie fell in love with the PA Wilds after moving to The Wilds with her parents and younger sister in 2006. When they found their soon to be home in Weedville, it was love at first hike. The girls would spend all their time wandering and exploring the vastness that was perpetually available; it was here that Kalie thought “everyone should get to experience this: wild, raw nature.” Graduating from Slippery Rock University with a Major in Environmental Studies and a Minor in Nonprofit Management, she set out on her mission. After graduating she decided to remain in Elk County. Now residing in St. Marys, she continues to spend her time soaking up the PA Wilds through kayaking, fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, and motorcycling through the mountains every chance she gets. Kalie now serves as the Secretary for Elk County Council on the Arts and launched her own business, GrACE by Kalie Anne, LLC. Focused on bringing Green Alternatives & Community Education to the forefront of the local economy Kalie aims to create a more sustainable future, ensuring everyone has a chance to experience the very same vastness she fell in love with. Her website, GrACEbyKalieAnne.com features directories that spotlight the businesses, products, and services offered in and around Elk County.