Every year, Glacier National Park Conservancy eagerly awaits the arrival of its seasonal workforce. Executive Director Doug Mitchell calls these people the backbone of the nonprofit’s summer operations. During Glacier Park’s busiest time of year from May until mid-October, the Conservancy staffs the visitor centers at St. Mary, Apgar and Logan Pass.
“Whenever you go to a bookstore in a national park, you’re supporting the work of the park because they’re run by a nonprofit like us,” Mitchell said. “We take that income and turn it back into project work in Glacier.”
However, as the park becomes an increasingly popular destination and the population of the surrounding area grows exponentially, the Conservancy grapples with the reverberating impacts of rising housing costs. A decade ago, the nonprofit housed their seasonal staff in a rental home in Whitefish. But that has become an increasingly hard sell.
“Think about getting up in Whitefish for an 8:00 am or 9:00 am start at Logan Pass,” Mitchell said. “That’s a really tough ask. So, it became clear when I took this job seven years ago that we were going to need to solve for workforce housing. We purchased a home for workforce housing in Hungry Horse so that we can provide low-cost housing to our seasonal employees.”
Mitchell said that this facility helps the Conservancy recruit a reliable workforce and, because it’s closer to the park, staff can commute easily. However, it’s not enough. The home is expensive, and money spent on maintenance and electrical costs takes away from the Conservancy’s important work.
This year, Everybody Solar, a long-standing Glacier Conservancy partner, stepped up to help address this problem. The company managed the installation of a 12.09 kW solar array at the housing facility, which is expected to offset 76% of the residence’s energy consumption, thereby reducing the Conservancy’s operational costs.
Myriam Scally, Everybody Solar executive director, said that she and her colleagues are proud to help the Conservancy achieve their sustainability and cost-saving goals. In past years, Everybody Solar installed solar at comfort stations in the national park and at the Conservancy’s headquarters.
“The Conservancy is so aligned with our mission of environmental protection that they are an easy partner to have,” Scally said. “One way we help make them more sustainable is by reducing their footprint. The other way we help is making them more sustainable financially, because they now have fewer overhead costs to operate their facilities, which in turn helps them preserve and protect the national park.”
While most nonprofits want to lower their environmental footprint, Scally said that they often lack the in-house expertise to implement energy projects. Thus, combining Everybody Solar’s outside expertise with the Conservancy’s commitment to sustainability has the potential for widespread impact in northwest Montana.
“For this installation, we were basically the project manager,” Scally said. “The nonprofit doesn’t have to become an expert in solar or dedicate any resources, time, or staffing because we take care of everything behind the scenes and hand them a turnkey project. Nonprofits are almost always overworked and understaffed, so not having to take away from their resources allows us to support them to do the great work that they’re already doing.”
In addition to the solar panels, Everybody Solar also helped install an electric vehicle charging station at the workforce facility, representing a step towards sustainable transportation networks within Glacier. The collaborative project was also supported by Citizen Watch U.S. and 1% for the Planet.
“Putting in a car charging station is aspirational,” Mitchell said. “It challenges us to take that next step in terms of being more carbon neutral and more sustainable long term. We’re in the forever business as a ‘Friends Group’ at the national park and I’m proud of us for thinking outside the box and leading the way.”
To build upon this momentum at the next board meeting, Mitchell and his team plan to propose that the Conservancy purchase their first electric vehicle. This car would reside at workforce housing and take staff up to Logan Pass daily.
Scally adds that for Everybody Solar, the partnership is about more than just philanthropy. She hopes that the unique nature of the Conservancy’s seasonal workforce housing will allow the project’s impact to be widespread.
“Those employees come into the neighborhood and live there maybe for three months of summer and then they leave, which means we hope it also helps to spread the word,” Scally said. “It really increases the visibility of how solar can impact communities across the United States, not just in Glacier and the surrounding area.”
Mitchell said he hopes that projects like the recent installation can serve as a model for other nonprofits to forge external connections to achieve their goals.
“It’s been really a special opportunity and we hope it can illuminate the path for other groups,” Mitchell said. “The power of it is in that discovery that together you can create some interesting change that moves the needle in terms of the long-term push towards sustainability.”
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