National Park Service's Assateague Island National Seashore Project a Model of Sustainable Design

August 1, 2002

Photo of the Sustainable Bathhouse Project at Assateague Island National Seashore

The Sustainable Bathhouse Project at Assateague Island National Seashore includes lightweight cabanas, passive-vent vault toilets, PV-pumped rinse water, salvaged wood boardwalks, and crushed clamshell paving.

On June 7, 2002, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held for Assateague Island National Seashore's sustainable bathhouse project. Located in Toms Cove District, Virginia, the bathhouse project is one of several environmentally sustainable design construction projects currently underway at the National Park Service's Assateague Island National Seashore, which serves 2 million visitors annually. Developing cost-effective, environmentally responsible roadways, parking lots, bathhouses, and visitor facilities on the southern end of the island are important goals of the project.

The cost-effective measures installed on Assateague Island this summer include several innovative elements. Faced with a rapidly moving shoreline and the unsuitability of conventional structures, lightweight cabana structures were developed, which are easy to set-up and dismantle, also allowing easy removal from the beach during pre-storm evacuations.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels were installed in easily-transportable trailers to provide solar-electric powered pumps. The PV systems were chosen, not only because of the fiscal and environmental benefits of renewable energy, but because the systems could be portable. The solar-powered water-pumping trailers acquired through SunWize Technologies feature self-contained power and controls, which power the permanently installed well pumps as well as the mobile toilet by Romtec, Inc. and cabana lighting systems.

The PV systems also allowed for the removal of unsightly and dangerous overhead power lines which were tenuously strung along a rapidly moving landform. Removing the overhead power lines, in turn, has not only helped to restore a more naturally appearing coastal landscape to this site, but has helped to recreate habitat for the piping plover, a bird which is on the list of Federally-protected threatened and endangered species.

Other features of the Assateague Island bathhouse project include prefabricated vault toilets, equipped with a passive ventilation system, which have been purchased and modified to facilitate rapid removal from the beach. Crushed clamshells, a waste product from the local seafood industries, have also been used to pave the island's roadways.

The Assateague Island project serves as a model of sustainable bathhouse architecture, which other Park Service units may emulate. Mike Hill, Superintendent of Assateague Island National Seashore, said "It's good! It's what we're all about."

In addition to the sustainable bathhouse project, Assateague has partnered with several FEMP programs for multi-year projects. For instance, FEMP's SAVEnergy audits have assisted with prioritizing cost effective measures for energy efficiency upgrades at the Park's Headquarters facility. FEMP's Federal Energy Saver Showcase and Technical Assistance Programs have provided evaluations for renewable energy and energy efficiency measures at two visitor facility rehabilitation projects. The Park Service's collaboration with FEMP is keeping Assateague a greening success story.

For more information, please contact Chris Finlay of the National Park Service at 410-641-1443, ext. 242 or or Sara Farrar-Nagy of NREL at 303-384-7514 or

This is a drawing of Assateague Island. Assateague is an island on the move.  The ocean, shifting sand, and seasonal storms constantly transform the landscape.  Natural forces have damaged beach facilities over the years.  At Toms Cove, the National Park Service is responding with mobile bathhouse units.  Easy to remove and reposition after a storm, each unit includes lightweight changing rooms, passive solar vault toilets, and a solar-powered shower.  The drawing depicts the following:  Free Fuel:  The sun's energy is the power behind the operation of the mobile bathhouse unit.  Driving on Clam Shells:  Crushed clam shells, a waste material from the local seafood industry, has replaced asphalt roads.  The shells are easier than asphalt to reposition after a storm.  Solar Power:  The mobile utility trailer houses all of the equipment required to pump fresh water to the solar shower tower.  Solar Shower Tower:  The tower provides a fresh, cold water rinse generated by a solar-electric powered pump in the utility trailer, located nearby.  Take a short walk to the trailer and see how the solar water pump works.  Convection Toilet:  The toilet's black PVC chimney absorbs solar energy creating a natural convection current - heated, stale air rises out of the chimney; fresh air is then drawn into the wall vent.  Moveable Boardwalk:  The modular boardwalks are constructed of lumber which was salvaged from the demolition of the old Toms Cove bathhouse.  This surface is wheelchair accessible, stable to walk on, yet easy to remove before a storm.  Changing Room: The lightweight changing room, built with stainless steel tubes and wrapped in synthetic canvas, is easy to set up and dismantle.