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Hike Inn receives LEED certification
len foote hike inn
Mahesh Ramanujam, CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, with USGBC Emerging Professional team, presents Len Foote Hike Inn LEED Platinum plaque at the Georgia World Congress Center. – Photo for the Dawson County News

The Len Foote Hike Inn, a backcountry lodge located deep in the Chattahoochee National Forest, recently achieved a major sustainability milestone, LEED certification at the Platinum level from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The recertification was upgraded from a LEED Gold certification presented in 2004.

“This new certification demonstrates the Hike Inn’s commitment to sustainability, said David Freeman PE, LEED AP, current Hike Inn Board Member and formerly Chief Engineer for the Georgia DNR and Hike Inn Project Manager and Executive Director of the USGBC Georgia Chapter.

“We have added significantly to the environmentally sustainable systems of the Hike Inn over the years,” said the organization’s Executive Director, Eric Graves. “We have upgraded and augmented our solar systems, operational efficiency and sustainability practices, so it was a good time to apply for recertification.”

Hike Inn staff and board members accepted a LEED Platinum plaque recently from USGBC CEO Mahesh Ramanujam at a ceremony held at Atlanta’s Georgia World Congress Center. Members of USGBC Georgia Chapter Emerging Professionals were also present as their support managing the certification process was instrumental. The Hike Inn was certified utilizing Arc, a relatively new state-of-the-art digital platform that enables projects to measure improvements and benchmarks against itself and projects around it.

Last January, a group of USGBC Emerging Professionals visited the Hike Inn to collect onsite information and to analyze data in five performance categories including energy, water, waste, transportation and human experience. Ultimately, the facility earned an overall score of 84 points out of a total of 100 points earning Platinum certification, the highest level available.

Since receiving its initial Gold LEED certification, the Hike Inn has added substantially to its solar energy systems. There are now two solar water heating systems, one to service the bathhouse and another to service laundry and staff quarters. Additionally, the Hike Inn added substantially to its solar photovoltaic capacity. During many of the warmer months the system generates an overall energy surplus and now has enough solar-generated electricity annually to provide over half of the inn’s needs. The new photovoltaic system installed in July 2017, was made possible by a grant from All Points North Foundation and a low-interest loan from Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE). To improve energy efficiency, the Hike Inn converted its entire pin CFL light fixtures to a more efficient LED bulb system in May 2016.

All the additions and changes to the Hike Inn’s environmentally sustainable systems are in addition to its existing program which includes composting of food waste, recycling for waste diversion, composting toilets conserving an estimated 200,000 gallons of water annually, a well water/greywater return system and native garden design. The program also includes recovery of rainwater for soil and water conservation, vermicomposting of food and office waste and – when possible – serving locally sourced food items in the dining hall. Hike Inn conservation features go all the way to the kitchen where guests are asked to participate by reusing cups and glasses during their stay and a “clean plate program” to reduce food waste.

“The Hike Inn’s mission statement is ‘Protecting Georgia’s natural resources through education and recreation.’” said Graves. “LEED Platinum designation is recognition of the importance of using sustainable technology to improve the environment while educating our guests.”

Len Foote Hike Inn is located five hiking miles from Amicalola State Park near Dawsonville, GA. Guests hike over hardwood mountain ridges and down through tunnels of rhododendron and laurel on their way to the remote inn. There they are served family-style meals and are given a tour of the facility along with an after-dinner educational program. The Hike Inn is owned by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources States Parks Division and operated by the nonprofit Len Foote Hike Inn, Inc. It opened in the fall of 1998 and serves about 9,000 guests per year.

For more information, visit , or contact Eric Graves, Hike Inn Executive Director at (404) 693-4453.


Environmental Conservation and Sustainability ‘Light Footprint’ Initiatives


1. Sustainable Design and Construction (1998)


Len Foote Hike Inn was designed by Garland Reynolds, a noted architect from Gainesville, Georgia, who was on the forefront of the green building movement and placed-based design in the 1990’s. Architectural design focused on reducing building waste, natural lighting, natural ventilation and modest sleeping accommodations encouraging guests to congregate and socialize in the many inside and outside gathering areas. Constructed in an environmentally responsible manner, site design practices incorporated tree protection, minimal grading, maintaining stormwater runoff patterns and native landscaping.


2. Renewable Energy Generation and Conservation


Solar Thermal Water Heating (two systems) 


§  solar thermal water heating system on bathhouse; seasonal water based (original feature 1998).                                            

§  (2009) original solar thermal system was converted to a propylene glycol system that is efficient year-round; partnered with Soenso Solar; three Schuco-USA solar thermal collectors on the bathhouse roof supply heat to two 120-gallon water storage tanks; water can reach 160 degrees; designed to reduce propane gas consumption for water heating by 75 percent.

§  (2010) solar thermal system with two flat panel solar thermal collectors and storage tanks added to laundry facility roof; installation by Soenso Solar.

§  (2014) new laundry facility thermal solar system; the two older laundry collectors added to bathhouse system; installation by Suncatcher of Atlanta; 4’x 8’ collectors manufactured in USA by Alternative Energy Technology.


Photovoltaic Solar Energy (two systems)

§  (2002) photovoltaic solar panels installed on south-facing roof of Sunrise Room; 24 PV modules (BP-585UL) 85 watt; peak power 1.6 kw; project managed by Southface Energy Institute; BP Solar donation; installation by Big Frog Mountain and support from Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority.

§  (2017) ‘Above the Grid’ photovoltaic solar initiative provides over half of the inn’s annual electricity needs. During many of the warmer months, the system generates an overall energy surplus; peak power: 45kW (AC);158 PV modules (CS6U-340M) 340 watt; three ground mount solar arrays; four 11,400 watt inverters; bi-directional meter, system is grid connected; installation by Radiance Solar; $60,000 grant from All Points North Foundation and a low-interest loan from Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE); system value $130,000.


Energy Efficiency


§  (2016) lighting components conversion from a pin/compact fluorescent bulb system to a more efficient LED bulb system for emphasis on long-term energy reduction.

§  (2018) weatherization improvement - new bunkhouse attic insulation (R-49;14 inches).



3. Water Conservation


§  waterless composting toilets (DEVAP 2000 by Biological Mediation Systems); with 9,000 guests per year conserving an estimated 200,000 gallons of water annually; (original feature1998).

§  well water/greywater return system cycles water back into the forest.

§  low flow showerheads installed in bathhouse

§  native plant garden design provides water efficient landscaping.

§  rain water capture (55-gallon rain barrel) and reuse for garden.

§  guest initiative of labelling glasses and mugs for reuse saves on dishwashing water.



4. Solid Waste Reduction and Diversion


§  guest food waste reduction initiative - ‘Clean Plate Plan’ and ‘Zero Food Waste Goal’.

§  guest solid waste reduction initiative - ‘Pack-It-In, Pack-It-Out’ policy.

§  organic materials waste diversion with vermiculture composting using red wiggler worms; two to four quarts a day organic food waste diverted from landfill since September 1999.

§  limited office paper use - one quarter ream/month shredded and added to vermiculture bins.

§  recycling program incorporates aluminum, tin, steel, all colors of glass, plastics #1-#7, cardboard and paper board.



5. Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policy


§  office paper with 100% post-consumer recycled content.

§  biodegradable and environmentally preferable laundry detergent and cleaning supplies.

§  sustainable cuisine - local, Georgia Grown and regional food provided when possible.



6. Certifications and Awards


USGBC LEED Certifications  

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design through the U.S. Green Building Council program

§  (2004) achieved Gold level under the category LEED Operations and Maintenance Existing Buildings v1 - LEED 1.0 pilot; the Hike Inn was the first project in the southeast to be certified at the Gold Level in the LEED-EB Pilot program. The Hike Inn is featured in one of the early U.S. Green Building Council LEED Reference Manuals.

§  (2019) achieved Platinum level under the category LEED O + M v4.1 rating system; achieved a performance score of 84 points in categories energy, water, waste, transportation, human experience; scoring the highest in transportation – 14 of 14 points, human experience - 19 of 20 points, and energy – 29 of 33 points.


(2018) Southface Fulcrum Lifetime Achievement Award - for the Len Foote Hike Inn efforts in sustainability and conservation. Honors the industry trailblazers who advance the Southface vision statement: a regenerative economy, responsible resources use, social equity and a healthy built environment for all - the ultimate roadmap to an equitable, resilient and vibrant future.