Along with three of my friends, I’ve made a promise to visit every one of the 121 state parks in the Pennsylvania system. We figure it’s a great way to support our award-winning parks and experience the hidden beauties of our state at the same time. As Pennsylvania Wilds residents, we’ve been able to reach the halfway mark by visiting those parks within the ever-widening circles we draw out from our central starting point in Lock Haven. This year we were looking forward to extending those boundaries even further, maybe even venturing as far as Ohiopyle for an overnight — until the virus hit.
Now, after several months of staying close to home, we’re beginning to think about taking our social distancing practices into the great outdoors. With masks and hand sanitizers close at hand, we’re contemplating day trips to some of the parks that are dearest — and nearest — to our hearts. Bald Eagle State Park is at the top of the list.
Located in the Bald Eagle Valley of northcentral PA, in the I-80 Frontier, the park features a beautiful 1,730 acre lake – the Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir — surrounded by forests, fields, and wetlands. The park offers two campgrounds, plentiful opportunities for swimming, fishing, and boating, and vantage points on its many hiking trails for observing nesting eagles and a variety of wildlife.
But perhaps the park’s biggest draw is The Nature Inn. The building, open year-round, with 16 guest rooms able to accommodate up to 50 guests, was designed to meet the highest ecological standards. Several features ensure energy efficiency throughout the building, including a geothermal heating/cooling system, a recycled steel roof to reduce the heat-island effect, and an on-site solar array to help with hot-water generation. Water use has been reduced both inside and out, with a rain-water harvesting system used to flush toilets, as well as rain gardens to decrease stormwater run-off and native landscaping featuring drought-tolerant plantings.
Everywhere you look, the Inn’s stunning decor showcases features that make extensive use of recycled materials. All of its floor and wall tiles are 55% recycled glass. Its outdoor patio furniture is 100% recycled aluminum. The countertops in the library and at the front desk are biocomposites made from sunflower seed hulls. And the builders and engineers were careful to use low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, stains, adhesives, and carpeting throughout.
This thoughtful construction earned the Nature Inn a LEED Gold Certification in 2011. “LEED” stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and it represents an acknowledgment, on the part of the international green building certification system, that the Inn was constructed “using strategies designed to improve energy savings, water efficiency, C02 emissions reduction, indoor air quality, and stewardship of resources.”
The Inn is also mindful of its human visitors. The guest rooms, which are named after the birds that populate the park, offer personal energy monitoring as well as loaner binoculars to help connect visitors to the park’s natural resources. There is a complimentary full hot breakfast every morning, boxed lunches to take out on the trails, and access to two large gas grills on the patio overlooking the Reservoir.
During this time of COVID-19, the Inn is taking special precautions to ensure visitor safety. While we are being asked to take personal responsibility in observing the health guidelines laid out by the CDC, WHO, the Governor’s Office, and the PA Department of Health, we can also rest assured knowing that the Inn has appointed a Pandemic Safety Officer whose responsibilities include making sure precautions are in place and are being observed. The Inn has instituted touch-free payment methods and the regular sanitizing and disinfecting of luggage carts and room key-cards, as well as all public and high-touch areas, with hospital-grade cleaning products. Disinfectant, paper supplies, and disposable gloves are available throughout the building, and appropriate Personal Protective Equipment is worn by all employees.
In 2016, the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle took first place in the USA Today’s Readers’ Choice competition, winning the title of “Best Eco-Friendly Hotel” in a nationwide contest. This year, the Inn will compete once again. Those of us living within traveling distance can enjoy this award-winning Inn firsthand, taking special delight in the fact that it reflects our community’s love of nature, our concern for conservation, and our respect for the environment. It’s a landmark we can be proud of.
Karen Elias, retired after 40 years of teaching college English, is now working as a freelance writer and environmental advocate in Lock Haven. She recently completed training to become a Climate Reality leader and is using her writing to increase both awareness of our precious natural resources and support for environmental sustainability. As a regular contributor who shares Stories of Personal Experience And Knowledge to the PA Wilds Are Calling blog, Karen is a member of WildSPEAK, the PA Wilds Civilian Storyteller Corps. Learn more here.
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