Bald Eagles

Green Getaway: The only destination of its kind in Pennsylvania, The Nature Inn is a scorching eco-lodge.

Green Getaway: The only destination of its kind in Pennsylvania, The Nature Inn is a scorching eco-lodge.

Image courtesy of The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle.

It’s almost exactly in the middle of Pennsylvania.

Appropriately, The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle — and its environmentally-inspired design — goes to the heart of Pennsylvania’s definition, “Penn’s Woods.” It’s the only lodge, eco-friendly or otherwise, located in a Pennsylvania state park.

“It’s a gem, more like a lodge than you’ll find in national parks,” said Tara DeVore, assistant superintendent of Bald Eagle State Park.

Perched atop a hill, the slender structure faces a lakeside view, surrounded by mountains lit by dewy sunrise vistas, as well as cotton candy sunset skies. But the 16-room hostel’s placement is about more than just a pretty view. Everything in the hostel is carefully designed in harmony with nature.

It’s only natural

Green technology powers The Nature Inn, from geothermal heating and cooling to innovative rainwater harvesting.

The cisterns capture raindrops and in total the 2,800 gallon system flushes the hostel toilets. The floor and wall tiles contain 55% recycled glass and the outdoor patio furniture is made from 100% recycled aluminum. Furniture and fireplaces are constructed from hardwood and stones from the surrounding forest. Signage explains many of the inn’s fascinating eco-friendly features.

Going green even won gold. The Nature Inn has been named the “#1 Eco-Lodge” in the nation by readers of USA Today, and has achieved the prestigious LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification, a global rating system for green buildings .

“There’s nothing else like it in PA,” said Kashia Quay, director of operations. “Sustainability is an important factor. We do everything possible to continue the ecological aspects in the property. Everything you look at has a purpose.

She particularly enjoys watching the children forage for whole sunflower seed husks embedded in the hotel’s bio-composite front desk.

Overall, the green design is “groundbreaking,” said Michelle Smithbauer, the park’s environmental education specialist. “It makes people feel better about staying at a state park. It’s a less impactful way to stay in a hotel.

Bird’s eye view

Eight rooms are lakeside, while eight overlook the woods, and all include binoculars, bird guides, and balconies. It is a paradise for ornithologists, even for birds. The hostel’s large fritted glass windows, with patterns, reduce bird strikes. The bluebirds have their own accommodation – 72 wooden boxes scattered around the park.

“There are over 275 species of birds seen in the park,” Smithbauer said. “The lake is large and deep enough to support a wide variety of waterfowl, from herons to diving and dabbling ducks. But people are really excited about bald eagles.

While many visitors assume the park is named after the beloved national bird, Bald Eagle State Park actually honors a Native American chief.

Additional wildlife includes many white-tailed deer and more elusive residents: black bears, minks, and fishers, related to weasels. The nearby “frog pond” is a hotbed of amphibians.

While the park’s traditional campground attracts seasoned campers, the lodge attracts a completely different clientele. He might even be considered an ambassador for the state park system.

“Of course, the Inn introduces people to our state parks. It’s a good buffer, if people aren’t so sure about camping,” DeVore said. “They can feel the comforts of home, but still get out and explore the outdoors.”

On the menu

Similar to a bed and breakfast, stays include a hearty hot breakfast. The on-site scratch kitchen offers gourmet options for lunch and dinner, including world-famous ice cream concocted nearby at Penn State’s Berkey Creamery.

Outdoor enthusiasts can also choose from a menu of activities: hiking, biking, boating, and summer water sports, including paddle boarding, fishing, and swimming on the lakeside sandy beach. Winter adventures include sledding, ice skating and fishing.

“This park is amazing — it has everything you hope to find in a state park,” said Charlie Brooks, innkeeper since The Nature Inn opened in 2010.

Inside, green technologies also read like a menu, giving food for thought.

“Environmental stewardship is the tip of the spear,” Brooks said. “For someone thinking of home improvements or new construction, everything about this building is a conversation starter.”

And that’s one of the main goals of the innovative property, designed by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). It is a green investment.

“It helps achieve DCNR’s goals: a way to educate people, not a way that hurts their stay. It shows them that “I can do something that’s good for the environment, and it won’t hurt my house,” said Brooks, who operates the hostel in an equally innovative public-private partnership. with DCNR.

Twelve years ago, the inn’s $10 million construction budget had its “skeptics,” Brooks said, amid “the increasingly tight state park budget.” But what has always been important to me is that the hostel basically generates enough revenue to offset the operating costs.

The good news? The Nature Inn seems to meet and exceed this goal. The bad news? Some nature lovers just can’t get into the hostel.

“We find that peak weekends are booked two years in advance,” Quay said.

The hostel’s small size and outdoor access are like a ray of sunshine in a pandemic-weary landscape.

“Occupancy rates over the past two years were higher than they’ve ever been,” Brooks said. “Our average occupancy rate now hovers around 80%.”

From all sides, the view is green. As Brooks and DCNR see healthy green growth, they are planting seeds for green eco-practices. In the meantime, late travelers wait for their visits, green with envy.

For more information about The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle, visit natureinnatbaldeagle.com. Writer Karen Hendricks advises visitors to consider off-peak travel times. She recently escaped to The Nature Inn to snag a series of weekday workdays that got really remote.

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