I spent a day of this past weekend at a nearby amusement park. Though summer trips to parks across the country for an afternoon of sunburn, screaming your head off on the coasters, and eating sticky funnel cake are a grand, old American tradition, it's pretty easy to see that amusement parks aren't very green. Noticing the garbage cans full of disposable plastic products and the massive amounts of energy required to power coasters and rides made me wonder what green initiatives amusement parks had to offer. The answer: very few.
Hershey Park leads the pack with one 30,000 kW-per-year-producing wind turbine and solar panel combination, which was donated by a renewable energy company. Busch Gardens and Sea World offer grant money to conservation groups. Disneyland's train runs on biodiesel, but the company said that they could not do green initiatives that might ruin the magical make-believe of the park. "Our culture is that we want to be very careful about those pieces that we put on stage, and we don't want to take that feel of the show away from the guests," said Frank Dela Vara of Disneyland Environmental Affairs. Universal Studios Hollywood offered free parking to clean vehicles on Earth Day only. Extensive Googling turns up nothing about green initiatives from Six Flags, Knott's Berry Farm, Cedar Point, or Dollywood.
It's clear that things will be slow to change in the parks themselves. It will be a long time before we see rides run by renewable energy, though there is one bicycle-powered coaster in Japan. From these photos (complete with an amusing autotranslation), the ride looks more terrifying than any American rollercoaster because people are barely strapped in to the rickety bicycle seats. It looks exhausting, as well as fun-killing. In lieu of better park structures and practices, here are a few tips for making your own amusement park trip greener, without spoiling a good time.
—If possible, take public transportation to the park.
—Try not to idle your engine if you're going to be stuck in heavy traffic entering and exiting the park. If you'll be staying still for more than 30 seconds, turn off your car. You'll save fuel.
—Bring a picnic, if the park allows you to. You'll save money, your food will be healthier, and you can use less packaging.
—But of course, greasy amusement-park food has its own appeal. If you will be buying your corn dogs and fries and Dippin' Dots in the park, try to choose foods without excessive packaging. Recycle as much as you possibly can.
—Try to win a big reusable cup when you play carnival games, and then use that for your soda the rest of the day.
—Once your kids outgrow or get bored of the toys they win at the park, remember to donate them to charity instead of throwing them away.