OLD FAITHFUL, WYO. — Staff accommodations in Yellowstone National Park have typically leaned toward the more rustic end of the spectrum, starting with a series of remote cabins built by U.S. Army soldiers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Guest quarters have at times been only marginally better, with some lodging meant as temporary housing still being used a half-century later.
So it was with understandable fanfare that a Yellowstone lodging concessioner earlier this month showed off two new environmentally friendly housing projects, both built using modular construction, and with a focus on sustainable building and design practices.
“This has been a crazy summer in Yellowstone,” said Dylan Hoffman, director of environmental affairs in Yellowstone for Xanterra Parks and Resorts.
So crazy, in fact, that the company was just getting around to an October 12 dedication and tour of Paintbrush Lodge, an employee dormitory opened in May. Some late summer workers were still doing laundry and moving out during the event.
The 78-unit employee residence near Old Faithful was awarded Platinum status by the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
Paintbrush Lodge was built as part of Xanterra’s 20-year concessions contract with the National Park Service, which places a premium on environmental responsibility.
Privately held Xanterra is the park’s primary concessioner, operating lodging, dining, retail and recreational ventures throughout Yellowstone. The company is the nation’s largest national and state park concessioner, employing approximately 3,000 just in Yellowstone.
The new Old Faithful dorm is already proving to be a helpful recruiting tool, Hoffman said. Workers like the clean, new, functional space, which includes a few larger family housing units aimed at retaining key staffers year-round. Hoffman showed off one of the family unit’s spacious kitchens, featuring new stainless steel appliances and sleek cabinets. Standard rooms lack kitchens, but offer beds and desks that can be configured for privacy, extra floor space or other options.
But for Xanterra, the green building elements were a major part of Paintbrush’s curb appeal.
That includes wood paneling made from beetle-killed pine, rooftop solar panels that will supply more than 10 percent of the dorm’s electricity, and a host of efficient fixtures that will significantly cut power and water use.
Hoffman said the project advanced quickly at the building site thanks to modular construction techniques.
Constructed in Boise, Idaho by Guerdon Enterprises, the modular units were trucked into the park last spring for final assembly by crane. Crews closed in the building by fall of 2014, working inside during the winter to finish the building by May.
Bryce Miller, a floor supervisor at Guerdon, made the trip from Boise to check out the final product, which he had previously only seen in modular form.
“I think it turned out great,” he said, peering down a hallway after visiting a few rooms. “It’s good to see, because we take a lot of pride in what we do.”
Another housing project on the other side of Yellowstone shares a number of similarities to Paintbrush Lodge. Three new lodges at Canyon opened to guests late this summer as part of an $80 million redevelopment program that will upgrade and replace much of that area’s lodging and dining facilities.
Two more new lodges will open next year at Canyon, and Guerdon is building the modular units that make up all five structures, which Hoffman expects to also achieve a high LEED ranking.
The Canyon lodges are replacing approximately 400 Frontier Cabins built in the 1950s and 60s, some of which were intended to be “temporary” housing for guests. The Canyon redevelopment is one of the largest reinvestments in the park required under Xanterra’s concessions contract, and its size and scope is beyond any lodging construction since the Old Faithful Snow Lodge was completed in 1999.
“There won’t be another project of this size and scope in our lifetime,” said Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Xanterra.
Like other hotels in Yellowstone, the rooms at Canyon lack TVs and air conditioning. But they are outfitted with modern beds, bath fixtures and furniture, including state-of-the-art LED lights.
In fact, when a tour of much of one lodge failed to turn up a single incandescent lightbulb, Hoffman claimed there were none in the entire building.
“I’d stake my reputation on it,” he said with a broad grin.
And in some ways, Xanterra and the contractors working on both projects are doing the same. Hotels in Yellowstone have a way of lasting longer than their initial planned use, and becoming emblematic of a particular era or style that reflects the times and culture when they were built.
Just look at the Old Faithful Inn, an iconic structure started in 1903, and still a favorite Yellowstone destination among countless park visitors.
Miller, the construction supervisor from Boise, got a chance to tour the Old Faithful Inn after the Paintbrush Lodge dedication. Still the largest log hotel in the world, the soaring, rustic Inn stands as an enduring tribute to its creators.
“This place is definitely amazing,” Miller said. “It’s like a work of art.”
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].