Many visitors to Shenandoah National Park are unaware of its chronic air quality issues. Particulates and toxins from power plants and other industrial facilities blow into the park and are deposited on the land and in the water with rain and snowfall. These pollutants threaten wildlife habitat and historical resources and reduce visibility from the mountaintops. On bad air quality days, the health of visitors with sensitive respiratory systems can be jeopardized.
As a national park, Shenandoah is designated a Class I Airshed, which affords it the highest level of regulatory protection. To that end, the park has an extensive array of air quality monitoring equipment and has been collecting data for three decades. In fact, Shenandoah’s air quality data set is considered amongst the best of its kind in the country. The data provide important information on pollution trends in the park and they are also used to inform regulatory agencies’ considerations of permit applications for industries whose emissions could affect Shenandoah.
The park’s primary air quality monitoring station is located in one of its most visited destinations—Big Meadows—yet the wealth of information collected there is not shared with the public in an intentional or comprehensible way. The park therefore proposed to establish a trail that would surround the monitoring site. The project included educational displays describing air quality issues and the history of the park’s monitoring program, identified the monitoring instruments visible to visitors, and demonstrated how the data make a difference in protecting park resources and the health of park visitors and neighboring communities.
Shenandoah National Park asked the Trust to take on this fundraising project in Summer 2009. The park held a scoping meeting in Spring 2010 with representatives from the Trust and employees of the National Park Service’s Interpretive Design Center at Harper’s Ferry, who discussed best practices used at similar projects in other national parks.