Keeping Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Picturesque

Miners Castle rock formation on Lake Superior in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising Michigan.

Wild Beauty Worth Protecting

Hugging the Lake Superior shoreline in Munsing, Michigan, the landscape of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is as stunning as any island off the coast of Italy or Greece. More than a half million people visit the park each year.

Hosting so many visitors while preserving the irreplaceable natural resources of the park is a delicate balancing act. As chief of facility management, it’s a task that Chris Case has made his life’s work.

In the 1990s, as a growing variety of biobased products made from soy began emerging, Case jumped at the chance to be an early adopter. Today, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore continues to lead in its use of biobased products. Case and his team use soy biobased products to replace petroleum-based products – in everything from hand cleaner to graffiti remover to auto lubricants. They are readily available, cost-competitive and perform as well or better than their traditional counterparts, according to Case, who has used biobased products for more than a decade.

“We have seen nothing but positive effects from using biobased products,” Case says. “They are at least equal, if not better than petroleum-based products. Why wouldn’t we do this?”

Why biobased?

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore employee William Magli cleans a utility sink with a soy-based cleanser.

Biobased products have many benefits to humans and the environment. Typically, they:

  • Are lower in toxicity than petroleum products.
  • Perform similarly to their more toxic counterparts.
  • Reduce volatile organic compounds. VOC emissions pose dangers to human health and the environment both as indoor air pollutants and outdoor air pollutants.
  • Reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals as well as irritation from odors.
  • Are made from domestically produced, abundant, renewable resources that replace products made from petroleum, and help reduce demand for imported oil.

“Even in our remote location, we have no problem finding and buying these widely available biobased products,” Case says.  “And they are cost-competitive.”

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore employee William Magli services a chainsaw with soy-based bar and chain lubricant.

Since introducing biobased products, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s safety and environmental programs have merged.  After all, they go hand-in-hand.

“What’s better for the environment is also better for people,” Case says. “We want to do this for the safety of our employees and park visitors, as well as our environment.”

Graffiti Remover and Other Cleaners

One of the staff’s favorite biobased products is a graffiti remover. Fortunately, graffiti itself is not much of a problem at the park, but it works well on getting just about any surface clean.

“It attacks aggressively but with no hazardous fumes, and there’s a lot less concern about getting it on our hands,” Case says.

The park also uses a biobased wood preservative on picnic tables, which weather over time.

“We didn’t feel good about using toxic chemicals on the same tables where parents were feeding peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to their kids,” Case says. “We spray the soy wood treatment on every two years and it seals up and protects the wood.”

Shop Uses

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore employee William Magli washes grease from his hands with a soy-based cleaner.

The maintenance shop keeps the park’s diesel vehicles and other equipment running smoothly, and many petroleum products have been replaced with biobased products. These include:

  • Hand cleaner. The soy-and-pumice cream removes ink, stains, grease and oil with ease, and is gentle on skin.
  • Auto lubricants. The all-natural, soy-based lubricant penetrates gears, chains and hinges just as well as other products. There are no harmful fumes or vapors.
  • Hydraulic fluids. A readily biodegradable, non-hazardous hydraulic oil for use in general-purpose hydraulic systems used in the park’s vehicles and shop lifts.
  • Parts cleaner. The shop workers had struggled with parts cleaners, which were highly flammable and gave off high levels of VOCs. The park asked Renewable Lubricants, Inc., if they could make a biobased parts cleaner, and the resulting product is now marketed as Bio-Parts Cleaner/Degreaser™.

Biodiesel Fuel

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore facility manager Chris Case filling a backhoe with soy-based biodiesel fuel.

Almost all of the diesel vehicles and other pieces of equipment run on B20, a blend of 20 percent biodiesel. Biodiesel is a diesel fuel replacement made from soybean oil as well as other readily renewable sources. Vehicles include a ten-ton dump truck, backhoe loaders, utility tractors, snow blowers, and a diesel pickup truck. The park has used biodiesel since 1999.

“We’ve always liked biodiesel due to its ease of use, solid performance and its cleaner exhaust,” Case says.

Since biodiesel lubricates the engine, the park saves money on additives.

One of the park’s tour boat operators was having trouble with diesel fumes rising to the back of the boat where the passengers were. He switched to biodiesel and the passengers stopped complaining about the exhaust.

Environmental Education

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore employee William Magli maintains a large snowplow vehicle with soy-based lubricants while using a hydraulic lift that also uses soy-based hydraulic fluid

Case routinely mentors other fleets, hosts educational events, and gives presentations to other organizations. “Now our emphasis is on convincing others that changing to biobased products is not only easy, but fulfilling,” Case says. “The idea is that if you do one thing, it opens the door to your awareness and ability to do more. Then you can see more opportunities. You use a green cleaning product, and then you start thinking about your vehicles, etc.”

Case notes that once you “turn that switch on, it doesn’t go back off.” Adopters are likely to make their operations more sustainable in all areas.

“The effort is only going to amplify,” Case says.

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