Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Green Getaway: The only destination of its kind in PA, The Nature Inn is an eco-lodge that’s red-hot.

Image courtesy of The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle.

It’s almost exactly in the center of Pennsylvania.

Appropriately, The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle—and its environmentally inspired design—goes to the heart of Pennsylvania’s definition, “Penn’s Woods.” It’s the only lodge, eco or otherwise, located in a Pennsylvania state park.

“It’s a gem, more comparable to a lodge you’d find in the national parks,” said Tara DeVore, assistant manager at Bald Eagle State Park.

Perched atop a hillside, the soaring structure is oriented to a lakeside vista, cocooned by mountains lit by dewy sunrise views, as well as cotton-candy sunset skies. But the 16-room inn’s placement is about more than a pretty view. Everything about the inn is thoughtfully designed in harmony with nature.

 

It’s Only Natural

Green technology powers The Nature Inn, from geothermal heating and cooling to innovative rainwater harvesting.

Cisterns capture raindrops, and, altogether, the 2,800-gallon system flushes the inn’s toilets. Floor and wall tiles contain 55% recycled glass, and outdoor patio furniture is comprised of 100% recycled aluminum. Furniture and fireplaces are constructed from hardwoods and stones locally sourced from the surrounding forest. Signage explains many of the inn’s fascinating eco-features.

Going green has even garnered gold. The Nature Inn has been named “#1 Eco-Lodge” in the country by USA Today readers, and it’s earned the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification—a worldwide rating system for green buildings.

“There’s nothing else like it in PA,” said Kashia Quay, operations manager. “Sustainability is a large factor. We do everything we can to continue eco-friendly aspects into the property. Everything you look at has a purpose.”

She especially enjoys watching kids search for whole sunflower seed hulls embedded in the hotel’s bio-composite front desk.

Overall, the green design is “groundbreaking,” said Michelle Smithbauer, the park’s environmental education specialist. “It makes people feel better when they’re staying in a state park. It’s a less impactful way of staying in a hotel.”

 

Bird’s Eye View

Eight rooms are lakeside, while eight face the woods, and all include binoculars, bird guides and balconies. It’s a birders’ paradise—even for the birds. The inn’s large windows of fritted glass—featuring patterns—reduce bird strikes. Bluebirds have their own accommodations—72 wooden boxes sprinkled throughout the park.

“There are over 275 bird species seen in the park,” said Smithbauer. “The lake is large and deep enough to support a large variety of waterfowl, from herons to diving and dabbling ducks. But people get really excited about the bald eagles.”

While many visitors assume the park is named for the beloved national bird, Bald Eagle State Park actually pays homage to a Native American chief.

Additional wildlife includes plentiful white-tailed deer and more elusive residents: black bears, mink and fishers—related to weasels. The nearby “frog pond” is a hotbed of amphibians.

While the park’s traditional campground attracts seasoned campers, the inn attracts a whole different crowd. It could even be thought of as an ambassador for the state park system.

“For sure, the inn introduces people to our state parks. It’s a good buffer, if people aren’t so sure about camping,” said DeVore. “They can feel the comforts of home, but still get out and explore the outdoors.”

 

On the Menu

Similar to a bed and breakfast, stays include a hearty, hot breakfast. The onsite scratch kitchen offers gourmet lunch and dinner options—including world-famous ice cream concocted nearby, at Penn State’s Berkey Creamery.

Outdoor lovers also can choose from a menu of activities: hiking, biking, boating and summer water sports—including paddle boarding, fishing and swimming at the sandy lakeside beach. Winter adventures include sledding, ice skating and fishing.

“This park is amazing—it has everything you’d hope to find in a state park,” said Charlie Brooks, innkeeper since The Nature Inn opened its doors in 2010.

Inside, green technologies also read like a menu, providing food for thought.

“Environmental stewardship is the tip of the spear,” Brooks said. “For someone thinking about home improvements or new construction, everything in this building is a suggestion to start the conversation.”

And this is one of the primary goals of the innovative property, conceived by Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). It’s a green investment.

“It achieves what DCNR was going for—a way to educate people, not in a way that detracts from their stay. It shows them that, ‘I can do something that’s good for the environment, and it’s not going to detract from my home,’” said Brooks, who operates the inn under an equally innovative public-private partnership with DCNR.

Twelve years ago, the inn’s $10 million construction budget had its “skeptics,” Brooks said, amid “the state parks’ ever-tightening budget. But what has always been important to me, is that essentially the inn generates enough income to offset operating costs.”

The good news? The Nature Inn appears to be meeting and exceeding that goal. The bad news? Some nature lovers simply can’t get into the inn.

“We find that peak weekends are booked two years in advance,” said Quay.

The inn’s small size and access to the outdoors are like a ray of sunshine within a pandemic-weary landscape.

“Occupancy rates during the past two years were higher than they’ve ever been,” Brooks said. “Our average occupancy rate now hovers around 80%.”

From every direction, the view is green. While Brooks and DCNR see healthy green growth, they’re planting seeds for green eco-practices. Meantime, backlogged travelers await their visits, green with envy.

For more information on The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle, visit natureinnatbaldeagle.com. Writer Karen Hendricks advises visitors to consider off-peak travel times. She recently escaped to The Nature Inn to snag a string of weekdays-turned-truly-remote workdays.

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