When we made plans to go camping this weekend, the only solar power we expected to find was the direct rays of the sun. As it turned out, we stayed at California’s first solar-powered campground, at Cache Creek in Yolo County. An easy drive from the San Francisco Bay Area, this region feels more remote than it is. The climate is certainly different from what we’re used to, with summer temperatures as high as 115F (it was only in the 90s this weekend, downright cool!). And the demographic is different, too; while some urban residents make it to this area, most of the clientele seems to be from the more immediate vicinity. You can expect to hear heavy metal blaring into the evening, accompanied by more yelping than I’ve heard in a long time. Glass containers are forbidden on the beach by the creek, but you’ll run across some abandoned beer bottles. And you won’t fit in with the majority of the crowd if you don’t smoke or have at least a few tattoos. So it’s not what you’d picture as a hotbed of sustainability—which just goes to show that our preconceived notions can easily be misguided.
In the 1980s the area might have felt even more far afield than it does today. It was still far from the existing power lines, so the site used generators for all its power needs. The generators were not only polluting and noisy but also costly; at the time, they cost $15,000 a year to run, and they didn’t even provide power 24 hours a day. I suspect that this financial burden was the major factor in the decision to install a solar system. Apparently the system saved taxpayers over $13,000 a year, and that was whenever the signs were made that explain it to visitors—by now, the savings are likely higher. The system was installed in 1985 and is still running.
I love finding solar power in unexpected places! This campground is a great example of how solar can be economically as well as environmentally sound. And the site’s efforts toward sustainability don’t end there: it also features a playground made with recycled materials, including mulch made of old tires. Tires are notoriously hard to dispose of, so this is a great way to reuse them.
Visitors to Cache Creek go there for the lovely scenery and beautiful river, which is popular with rafters and kayakers. No one, including us, is likely to pick a camping spot based on how sustainable it is. But it’s great to see that whatever the motivation, as treehugger reported recently, increasing numbers of campgrounds across the country are recycling more and using solar and other sustainable forms of power. If people are going to relax by visiting nature, it makes sense that they should help to preserve that nature at the same time.