“Eco-friendly” has been a hotel buzzword for nearly a decade now. As consumers have become more conscious of their own environmental footprint when traveling, the hotel industry has responded by trying to grow more in tune with nature. But efforts by individual hotels have been hit or miss in practice. It’s not hard to see the hypocrisy of mega-properties that throw a card on the bed asking their guests to reuse towels and sheets in an effort to be “green” while the size and scope of the property itself means that it must consume resources at extreme rates.
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But travelers should not let half-hearted marketing efforts discourage them from truly exemplary work. Examples of a true eco-friendly approach can be found across the globe. Costa Rica was and remains a major player in hotel sustainability, for example, and our nation continues to make strides with its LEED certification program. Another prime example sits at the base of Heavenly Mountain in South Lake Tahoe: the 968 Park Hotel.
Its story starts with a run-down Days Inn, so badly decaying that the chain’s corporate headquarters demanded the new property owner remove the branding and signage from the hotel’s front yard. After a failed attempt to resurrect the existing property, it went into foreclosure. Chris Minnes purchased it in 2007. Seeing the potential of the lot just a few blocks from Lake Tahoe, he renamed it 968 Park Hotel after its address and decided to strip down the existing infrastructure and start again — this time with a different approach.
“Tahoe is beautiful because it’s an environmental gem, and we need to do everything we can to be sure we don’t squander that”, Minnes said. “The direction things were going [in Tahoe’s hotel scene] was that people were over-leveraging the business side without any concern for environment, and the town was losing its identity to branded hotels.”
The mission set the tone for construction blueprints rooted in simplicity, one that valued the repurposing of local materials over everything else. It started out humble. When a tree out front of the old Days Inn had to be cut down, Minnes had the timber turned into tables and artwork that are now found throughout the hotel. Next, he took one of the old mattresses left behind at the Days Inn and turned it into a decorative couch. The remains of the old property’s pool fence became furniture for the hotel’s bar, and the wine rack was made from parts found in an abandoned mine at nearby Topaz Lake. There are low-flow showerheads, energy-efficient lights, and an ozone laundry system.
But the hotel’s true merits lie in its willingness to take on environmentally sound initiatives that might go unnoticed by guests. All the insulation in the hotel, for example, is made from recycled blue jeans (if you go into the business center, there is a small viewing window where you can see into the wall and observe the insulation). Eggshells are used in the paint and plaster, the wallpaper is made from recycled newspaper, the carpets are made of recycled milk jugs, and the cabinets at the front desk are riddled with bullet holes, salvaged from that same mining camp in the hills surrounding Topaz Lake.
The same approach applies to the 58 guest rooms, where headboards, desks, nightstands, and dressers are made of reclaimed timber, reuses that are both green and useful in recalling a “feeling of Tahoe”, as Minnes put it. The coat racks are made from long pieces of wood, and you can expect to find pine cones, branches and photographs of Lake Tahoe on the walls as decor. The hotel’s double suite even has a patio with a fire pit, the kind you’d expect to find at a wilderness lodge, with big stumps to sit on.
It’s all part of creating a true sense of place. “When I go to a hotel, no matter where I’m going, I want to feel like I’m at that destination”, Minnes said. “If I wake up and feel like I’m in St. Louis, why should I go to Tahoe?”
Another aspect of Minnes’s hotel establishes locality the minute you step inside. In a twist of great foresight, Minnes forewent a traditional lobby and instead designed the ground level of the 968 Park Hotel to be a coffee bar, the CoffeePub Lounge. It has since turned into an established social scene, a place locals come for an espresso in the morning and a glass of wine or craft beer to pair with live music at night. Minnes said he created it because “there was nothing in town between a club and a dive bar”; he wanted a place that would carve out its own niche and carry some class in a town filled with twentysomething bars.
It is in this social scene that the overall appeal of the hotel shines through. Locals mingling with tourists, listening to local musicians, sitting on furniture made from an old fence, creating an atmosphere where literally everything you lay eyes on has a story to tell. Who knew that blue-jean insulation and milk-jug carpet were such good icebreakers?