I had the good fortune to be in Zakopane, Poland April 20-23 for a national parks conference co-organized by Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, Tatra National Park Poland and the U.S. Consulate in Krakow.  We had perfect weather (as one can see from this picture on top of Kasprowy!).

Rocky, Tatra and US Consulate staff on Kasprowy

Rocky, Tatra and US Consulate staff on Kasprowy

The participants were there to hear about alternative energy in national parks.  People may not know that national parks in the U.S. and abroad are very interested in the idea of sustainable energy.  It makes sense if you think about it…parks are there to protect and teach about natural resources, so parks themselves should also be “green”.  (For more on sustainable energy and U.S. parks, please visit: http://www.nps.gov/climatefriendlyparks/)

The idea for the conference came from the ongoing sister parks relationship between Tatra and Rocky.  Five people from Tatra National Park went to visit U.S. national parks this fall.  They noticed that right now in the U.S., sustainability is a factor in all park decisions. Park visitor centers are designed to save energy, parks set up recycling facilities for visitors, and even souvenirs in the gift shops are made with recycled materials.  A popular idea in the U.S. is to minimize the number of cars in the parks through the use of free biofueled or hybrid shuttle buses for visitors.

The conference itself was packed with great presentations from both Rocky and Tatra park personnel.  Attendees came from parks all over Poland, from Tatra National Park Slovakia and five people came from Rocky Mountain, including the park director, Vaughn Baker.  Everyone’s favorite talk seemd to be the “toilet talk”;  in other words, how to provide environmentally-friendly toilet facilties in high altitude or inaccessible areas of parks.  Tatra talked about their use of solar panels in the park.  Rocky talked about their huge volunteer program: they have over 1,000 volunteers who work over 100,0000 hours annually. U.S. parks could not survive without volunteers, andTatra has now started their own volunteer program.

The conference opening was in the historic Witkacy theater in Zakopane, a gorgeous venue where we watched a beautiful documentary film called “America’s Lost Landscape: The Tallgrass Prairie”  (http://www.lostlandscapefilm.com/lostland/).  Filmmaker David O’Shields was there to introduce his film.  Conference participants also enjoyed an evening of Polish song and theater at Witkacy on the second night of the conference.

The parks conference coincided with Earth Day (April 22) and National Parks Week in the U.S.  I came away with the realization that those people who work in parks are some of our best resources-both the Tatra and Rocky Mountain National Park staffs are devoted to protecting the parks for future generations!