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Pilgrim Firs Camp and Conference Center models green building
with retrofits
as part of its role as Environmental Justice Center

Deeg Nelson, manager at Pilgrim Firs Camp and Conference Center, and Conference Minister Mike Denton recently described ways Pilgrim Firs has become a demonstration of green building as part of its being the location for the national UCC’s Environmental Justice Center.

Deeg Nelson
Deeg Nelson is overseeing ‘green’ developments at Pilgrim Firs.

For the first training, 12 came for a weekend, half from the Pacific Northwest Conference and half from around the United States, including a representative of the Unitarian Universalists.

Those attending explored how people of faith can work for environmental justice for all, said Meighan Pritchard, of Keystone UCC in Seattle, one of the participants.

The goal is to help people explore how to do that through “train the trainer” workshop opportunities, in which participants learn about issues—through readings, film, discussion and a hands-on immersion experience—and then take this information back to their faith communities for further education and action, she said.

Mike Denton, PNC conference minister, said costs are self-contained so the training can be replicated, using an Environmental Justice Curriculum people can insert into their own local group settings.  Participants learn the logistics and have a checklist of what to do.

Participants learned about Puget Sound Sage, Earth Ministry, the local Suquamish and Duwamish first people, and Port Gamble and Clellam.  They visited the Suquamish community garden that helps people support themselves.  The county connects with the tribe to purchase locally.

Through Farm to Table, a Port Orchard group connecting people to local family farms, Pilgrim Firs also is working toward buying more food from local farmers and working on cooperative projects with the South Kitsap Food Bank.  Less food is delivered by trucks.  Pilgrim Firs had a garden, but found it too labor intensive.

meighan pritchard
Meighan Prichard is a leader in Conference environmental and ‘green’ efforts.

Two tracks of the center are the national UCC Environmental Justice Program and UCC-Pilgrim Firs’ efforts to improve the camp to make it environmentally friendly as an example and to develop the national curriculum there.

Pilgrim Firs seeks to model green building, said Nelson, by taking the older facility and demonstrating retrofits that people can also do in their homes to save energy.

Once the site for the Seattle School District’s environmental education, Pilgrim Firs seeks to draw it back from Islandwood, a new camp built on green principles. 

Nelson hopes to do it by offering something different, by making things more reusable and recyclable.

Simple changes include developing a recycling program that reduces trash consumption by two thirds, and replacing lighting fixtures and light bulbs in most of the buildings that saves one-third in charges on the camp’s energy bill.

Because the camp buildings are basic, said Denton, people can learn how to do environmental upgrades using simple templates and retrofits.

As it has replaced all the roofs and put in more insulation, Pilgrim Firs has further cut energy costs.  It has also taken out fire places and tightened air flow in buildings.  Because cabins are no longer drafty, heaters are on less, and campers are more comfortable.

After the dining hall roof was replaced and insulated, it went from a space needing to be heated two days before a group came, to a space that could be heated four hours before.

“Use of ceiling fans to move the heat down also saves money,” said Nelson.

The new roofs include natural lighting through skylights—five in the dining hall—so lights are turned on less.

As volunteers help make improvements, they gain training in environmentally friendly building practices.

Denton said Pilgrim Firs has worked on the improvements in pieces, figuring out  how to repair a leaky roof so it is not only sound but also environmentally responsible. 

For example, Madsen lodge was renovated two-and-a-half years ago.

With the Environmental Justice Center located at Pilgrim Firs, the site provides a context that gives the curriculum meaning, he said.

We were discussing what environmental justice meant as we made improvements,” said Nelson.  “Mike saw what I was doing and suggested we be an Environmental Justice Center.  I was into environmental issues, but did not at first understand the connection to justice.

“Now we work with other communities on issues such as toxic dumping,” he said, pointing out that the program includes visiting the Port of Seattle and learning about pollution from its use as a toxic dump.

“We are looking at the impact of water, soil and air quality for ourselves and neighbors downwind,” Nelson said.  “At the Port of Seattle, the soil is polluted with dioxins and diesel that can cause lung disorders.  Food grown nearby is not safe because particles blow off trucks going to the dump.  We are also concerned about the rights and safety of truckers.  In addition, airplanes use the area to dump fuel.”

For five years, Puget Sound Sage, which began under the Church Council of Greater Seattle and is now independent, has led work on port issues.  

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Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © September 2012





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