Tribe goes solar at visitors centers

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has installed a series of metal trees baring solar panels on the branches near the three visitors areas on the Qualla Boundary.

The artistic solar arrays fasioned in the form of a tree were installed at the Welcome Center on Tsali Boulevard, the visitors center on U.S. 19 and a public rest area and infomation kisok near the Great Smoky Mountain National Park entrance.

“I think they are pretty neat,” said Damon Lambert, EBCI Building Construction manager and head of the Strategic Energy Committee.

The tribe hopes the unique look will draw attention from visitors to the reservation.

“That is kind of why we did them in town,” Lambert said.

The end goal is to make the Welcome Center LEED certified and the downtown building achieve net zero energy status, meaning it does not use any non-renewable energy.

The addition of the solar panels is part of a larger Energy Efficiency & Environmental Showcase, which includes solar hot water, more efficient lighting and improved insulation. The project also will include a small wind turbine on Cow Mountain.

The total project is being funded through a $500,000 from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit focused on preserving native culture, protecting the natural environment and creating diverse economic opportunities.

Lambert estimated that the upgrades will be complete by September.

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