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Inn brings solar energy to backcountry
Len Foote Hike Inn solar pic
A new solar photovoltaic array has been installed at the Len Foote Hike Inn near Amicalola Falls. The system converts light directly to electricity and supplies nearly 70 percent of the inn's electricity needs. - photo by For the Dawson County News

Brighter days are ahead for the Len Foote Hike Inn, an environmentally sustainable wilderness lodge in the north Georgia mountains, thanks to a newly installed “Above the Grid” solar project that supplies nearly 70 percent of the inn’s electricity needs.

Officials say the project will educate thousands of guests annually about the value of sustainable, environmental practices.

For 18 years the Hike Inn, accessible for its guests only by hiking five miles from a trailhead at Amicalola Falls State Park, has encouraged wilderness recreation and environmental education.

Now, through support from a grant from All Points North Foundation, or APNF, and a low-interest loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, the Hike Inn is adding its most impactful sustainable system: a 53.72 kW solar photovoltaic array.

Hike Inn Executive Director Eric Graves said through use of the system that creates electricity from light, the inn is reducing its carbon footprint significantly while educating guests and visitors about the importance of alternative energy.

“By using the power of the sun to supply the majority of our electricity needs, we are demonstrating an economical way to limit the power we take from the grid,” said Graves.

Laura Staich, executive director of APNF, said that the foundation is focused on driving awareness, education, training and hands-on application of solar power as a practical and cost-efficient energy source, which made awarding the grant to the Len Foote Hike Inn a no-brainer.

“The Hike Inn project puts the practical value of solar front and center by educating guests across the age spectrum about how they can conserve energy and lower their carbon footprint through sustainability practices such as solar energy,” Staich said.

Among the many sustainable systems already in use at the Hike Inn are a solar thermal water heating system that supplies hot water to the Hike Inn bathhouse and laundry facility; composting toilets that save in excess of 200,000 gallons of water annually; a LEED gold-level architectural design which conserves energy and water while reducing emissions; and a food composting system for food waste supplemented by vermiculture, or earthworms.

Georgia’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites, Becky Kelley, says the new solar system is a huge leap forward for their mission.

“Georgia State Parks have long appreciated the nonprofit model at the Hike Inn,” said

Kelley. “The Hike Inn is totally in line with our aim to provide recreation and environmental education.”

Another major project at the Hike Inn is the Outside School, which brings young people and their leaders for an overnight wilderness experience, will be enriched by the addition of the solar array, according to Hike Inn Board President Richard Judy.

“We provide a diverse range of young people with a wilderness adventure that they may otherwise never experience,” Judy said. “'Above the Grid' teaches them a vivid lesson about the connection between sustainability and wilderness.”

Deep in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Hike Inn is a unit of the Georgia

State Parks and is operated by the nonprofit Len Foote Hike, Inc.

Approximately 9,000 guests per year stay at the Hike Inn where amenities include rustic guest rooms, a bathhouse and a dining hall that serves dinner and breakfast.

Each year, thousands of day hikers take a break for cold and hot beverages and a rest break before traveling on. Just one mile from the Approach Trail to Springer Mountain, the Hike Inn has a direct trail connection to the famous Appalachian Trail.

For more information about “Above the Grid,” visit Hike Inn Conservation in Action and All Points North Foundation.