Down a somewhat private lane on the west side of Fontana Park in Buchanan County sit two solid new cabins — prime examples of sustainable resources, says Buchanan County Conservation Executive Director Dan Cohen.
Built and opened to the public in 2011, the cabins feature many sustainable-living elements, including triple-paned, energy-efficient windows, structural insulated panels and locally sourced materials and labor. All of the electrical needs are operated through off-grid solar panels.
“A fun, educational piece is that there is a spot in the cabin where you can see how the solar panel is working and how much energy you are using,” Cohen said. He added that they keep a journal in the cabin and have had many guests note that trying to keep their energy consumption down became like a game to them during their stay.
The cabins, as well as Fontana Park, are managed by the Buchanan County Conservation Board. With more than 39 parks and a host of educational programs, Buchanan County Conservation works to educate the public in conservation and encourage people to enjoy the natural resources of the county.
Fontana Park, the largest of the Buchanan County parks, also features a nature center that is the hub for the environmental education programs.
“There’s also a live wildlife display that is very popular,” Cohen said. The self-guided nature trails and a bicycle path from the park leading into nearby Hazelton are popular with park visitors as well.
Cohen said the conservation board went back and forth for years on the decision to build cabins in the park, not knowing if offering that type of lodging was a good fit with the overall mission. But a conference visit to some sustainable cabins at another park inspired the board to make the leap.
“We realized we could teach people about conservation with structures that model sustainable living and also provide an overnight experience to people and get them outdoors to enjoy the natural resources,” he said.
“One of the thresholds when designing the cabins was to not put in elements that would be unrealistic for individuals to implement in their own homes,” Cohen said.
While the cabins have been rented often since opening three years ago, Cohen said they also get a fair number of people who just want to stop out and see the various conservation elements of the building that they might incorporate in their homes.
“The cabins are a mixture of public resource and education in that way.” Cohen said, adding that other county conservation programs have come to see the cabins as well.
Open year-round, Cohen said their cabins are staying pretty well booked.
“Visitors are finding that winter is a great time to use these cabins,” Cohen said. “It is a nice place to be, especially when we get a good snowfall and you can go snowshoeing. People really are impressed with the beauty and comfort they find in the cabins.”