TodayApril 17, 2022

Nation Park’s fuel reduction and emissions

Yosemite National Park emissions

“We’re very excited to get the hybrid buses. We were even more excited when the diesel buses left.” Mike Tollefson, Superintendent of Yosemite National Park

In 1872 Yellowstone became the world’s first national park. 133 years later there are 388 units of Park systems under the National Parks umbrella. Half of them are for cultural heritage, such as battlefields, monuments, and memorials. The other half are seashores, scenic areas, and 54 National Parks.

When one thinks of National Parks they think of wide-open spaces, meandering streams, glacial-carved granite that touches the sky and so much greenery you wonder how carbon dioxide could exist. The reality of many National Parks is also congestion; congestion by traffic, air pollution, and noise.

There are microcosms in the United States that can be case studies for what the nation should be doing in the future to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Military bases and airports are already seeing hybrid vehicles and fuel cell vehicles and generators being utilized. The next test-microcosms are the National Parks.

Many parks have used alternative transportation systems (ATS) to decrease air pollution, haze and noise. The Department of Interior (DOI) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Transportation (DOT) in November 1997.

In 1999 ATS started being put into place, for example in Acadia National Park where the Island Explorer Shuttle still runs today. In 2002 an in-depth study was put together that covered everything from technology options, vehicle options, and fuel options now and the possibilities for the future. The background, availability, cost, and environmental impact was given for each energy source, including;

  • Battery-Electric
  • Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Propane)
  • Natural Gas
  • Ethanol
  • Hybrid/Electric
  • Bio-diesel
  • Hydrogen

According to Lou DeLorm, team leader of the transportation management program for the National Parks (, “America’s national park roads and parkways are outstanding design achievements that exemplify the harmonious integration of highway engineering and landscape architecture.

The challenge of building roadways through remote and rugged terrain inspired some of the most spectacular feats in the history of American engineering, yet even in the most demanding locations, designers went to great lengths to make sure that park roads would “lie lightly on the land,” encroaching as little as possible on their natural and cultural surroundings.”DeLorm says that there are over 300 million visitors to all 388 National Parks.

There are currently over 8,055 miles of roads and parkways, 1,252 bridges, 60 tunnels, and extensive parking facilities. To solve the growing congestion problem throughout the Service, there are 63 visitor transit systems in 50 parks that vary in size ranging from single-vehicle vans to bus fleets. “Alternative means of transportation must be explored to provide access and a quality visitor experience, without additional adverse impacts to resources.

It used to be that 80 percent of our visitors were campers and 20 percent were day-users. Now-a days, 80 percent of our visitors stay for about four hours and 20 percent are campers.”

According to DeLorm, since 1999, 67 buses have been purchased, 62 of them are alternative fuels. Just the other day Yosemite National Park received eight hybrid buses and expects to receive ten more soon. These are the first hybrid buses in any National Park.

The conventional diesel bus (at 4 mpg) took two gallons of fuel to go through the park. The old bus averaged 20,000 miles per year and was about 20 years old. The savings would normally be explained as a 50 percent decrease in fuel. But each bus carries 700 passengers per hour, equaling 5,600 passenger miles of fuel saved by those eight buses.

A little help for Smokey the Bear at Yosemite National Park
A little help for Smokey the Bear at Yosemite National Park

The hybrid buses are diesel/electricity with a hybrid powertrain installed by Hayward, Ca. based Gillig Corp. The two-mode system was developed by General Motors and is a larger-scale version of GM’s full-size hybrid slated to go on sale in 2007. According to Jeff Everett, Service Engineer, Allison Transmission, the bus has two electric motors that produce 100 horsepower each.

The 600-volt Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery sit’s on top of the 40-foot transit bus and is able to withstand temperatures from “30 degrees below in celsius up to 126 degrees Fahrenheit.”GM says the hybrid buses will reduce emissions by 90 percent, improve fuel economy by 50 percent and offer better acceleration than a conventional diesel bus engine with less wear and tear, meaning less operational costs.

Congressman George Radanovich (R-CA, District 19), sees hybrid buses as a way to have better air quality. “Yosemite is a little community that is planning for fuel cell use and hybrid vehicles. Overseen by three counties that surround Yosemite, the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) has two bus routes that make stops both inside and outside of the park.

This system provides a way for visitors to see and enjoy the park and allows us to meet our goals of protecting the park’s resources while providing a quality visitor experience. These concerns and air quality will continue to drive our purchases.”

According to one of the Rangers, “The hybrid vehicle provides just enough noise that people don’t walk out in front of them.” Adrienne Freeman, Park Ranger, still stops in mid-sentence when a bus goes by. As a docent, the Park Rangers were used to waiting for the noisy buses to go by before they would continue their speech. One of the reasons Yosemite didn’t use electric buses was because they were too quiet.

Alternative Transportation Systems (ATS) relieve traffic congestion, protecting sensitive park resources. Many ATS use vehicles run on alternative fuels like electricity, natural gas, or propane. For example, NPS worked with the National Park Foundation and the Ford Motor Company to restore 34 of Glacier National Parks legendary red touring buses, adding modern safety features and engines that run on clean-burning propane. Compared to gasoline or pure diesel vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles produce fewer pollutants and less noise and can save fuel.

goals and accomplishments;

The infrastructure that can utilize alternative fuels/energy:

Fuel Facilities
Transit Stops
Administrative building – Yosemite currently utilizes a fuel cell generator. Yosemite owns two fuel cell generators but does not have the funds to install the second fuel cell generator. Hydrogen is produced through the electrolysis of water. For hydrogen that is produced by electricity, the emissions are those belonging to the power plant.

Vehicles that can utilize alternative fuels/energy:

Buses – using energy such as diesel, electricity, natural gas, ethanol or propane.
Biodiesel is being researched for future use. According to NPS, Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to have completed fully the health effects testing requirements of the Clean Air Act. The use of biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine results in a substantial reduction of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter compared to emissions from diesel fuel.

Ethanol is being considered in the mid-west. E85 refueling stations are located primarily in the Midwest where a majority of the fuel production is located. Nearly 150 stations are now operating in more than 20 states in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains.E85 has high oxygen content, making it burn cleaner than gasoline. E85 also reduces greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide as much as 39 to 46 percent compared to gasoline.


A little help for Smokey the Bear at Yosemite National Park
A little help for Smokey the Bear at Yosemite National Park

CarriagesAlternative Transportation Systems Inventory:

96 National Park units utilize some form of Alternative Transportation System (110 systems)
12 systems are owned and operated by NPS
59 systems operated by a concessionaire
37 parks supported by local public transit service
12 parks rely exclusively on alternative transportation as the only means of access

National Park Service Deputy Director Don Murphy says it best, “These hybrid-powered buses exemplify the National Park Services efforts to simultaneously provide unparalleled visitor service while taking a leadership role in greening the environment through the federal fleet and transportation efficiency.”

If you would like to visit one of your National Parks and see some of their alternative transportation services here is a list.

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, ME
American Samoa National Park, Saipan, MP
Arches National Park, Moab, UT
Badlands National Park, southwestern, SD
Big Bend National Park, The big bend of the Rio Grande, TX
Biscayne National Park, Miami, Key Biscayne & Homestead, FL
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Montrose, CO
Bryce Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon, UT
Canyonlands National Park, Moab, UT
Capitol Reef National Park, Torrey, UT
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Carlsbad, NM
Channel Islands National Park, Ventura, CA
Congaree National Park, Hopkins, SC
Crater Lake National Park, Crater Lake, OR
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Cleveland, and Akron, OH
Death Valley National Park, Death Valley, CA, NV
Denali National Park, Denali Park, AK
Dry Tortugas National Park, Key West, FL
Everglades National Park, Miami, Naples, and Homestead, FL
Gates of the Arctic National Park, Bettles, AK
Glacier Bay National Park, Gustavus, AK
Glacier National Park, Northwest Montana, MT
Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon, AZ
Grand Teton National Park, Moose, WY
Great Basin National Park, Baker, NV
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina, NC, TN
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Salt Flat, TX
Haleakala National Park, Kula, Maui, HI
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hilo, HI
Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, AR
Isle Royale National Park, Houghton, MI
Joshua Tree National Park, Southern California between I-10 and Hwy 62; headquarters in Twentynine Palms, CA
Katmai National Park, King Salmon, AK
Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward, AK Kobuk Valley National Park, Kotzebue, AK
Lake Clark National Park, Port Alsworth, AK
Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mineral, CA
Mammoth Cave National Park, Mammoth Cave, KY
Mesa Verde National Park, Cortez, and Mancos, CO
Mount Rainier National Park, Ashford, Enumclaw, Packwood, Wilkeson, WA
North Cascades National Park, Marblemount, WA
Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, WA
Petrified Forest National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ
Redwood National Park, Del Norte & Humboldt counties, CA
Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, and Grand Lake, CO
Saguaro National Park
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, In the southern Sierra Nevada in Tulare and Fresno counties, CA
Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Mountains near Luray, VA
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora, ND (South Unit). The North Unit is located 15 miles south of Watford City, ND
Virgin Islands National Park, St.John, VI
Voyageurs National Park, International Falls, Kabetogama, Ash River, and Crane Lake, MN
Wind Cave National Park, Hot Springs, SD
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Copper Center, AK, BR> Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone National Park, ID, MT, WY
Yosemite National Park, the Sierra Nevada, CA
Zion National Park, Springdale, UT

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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