Having first read about the place in the newspaper a few weeks ago, we loaded up the vehicle and headed for Russell to have a look at the Noble View Outdoor Center; trading the snowless lower elevations of the valley floor...
...for the recently white-coated woods and rustic-ness of the hill country.
It was an easy drive from home base to Noble View; taking less than 45 minutes from the burbs of the greater Springfield area to the gates of the campground.
Noble View is an Appalachian Mountain Club affiliated camp site, with several lodging buildings standing atop a broad hill, surrounded by a huge network of forest trails all around. They were deep in snow at this time, so we resigned ourselves to making this a scouting trip for future reference...
Much of the site is pretty rustic, to be sure, with hand pumped water, out-houses for facilities, and plenty of wood for campfires.
Standing in high contrast to those old, tottering farm structures, was this, as yet to be completed, glistening example of the state of the art in high efficiency.
We didn't know it yet, but we were to soon become very familiar with this structure...
A little farther up and serving as a middle ground to the two building extremes, were two lodges, available for overnight stay: One is a small farm house from the early 19th century, apparently well restored and sporting bright New England farmhouse colors.
And nearby there's another, much bigger lodge, also restored. This one is divided into two individually rentable wings with a broad veranda and porches, commanding a nice view of Westfield and the valley far below...
...a Noble View, no less.
We were taking in the scene when the camp's manager slowly strolled up from his truck, and casually mentioned that you can see as far as the Worcester hills; pointing out Wachusett mountain on the horizon. He was Gary Forish; the brains and drive behind the outdoor center's current existence: it's conservation protection, it's restoration and it's renovation.
He was also a fount of information about the outdoor center; explaining how things are laid out at the camp and what to expect during a stay here. The rates for staying in the lodges are inexpensive and vary depending on how many rooms, beds and amenities you request; anything from one bed to an entire wing of the double cottage. I imagined how cool and peaceful it must be here at night, with the lights of Westfield below and the stars above.
There were apparently some campers staying at the big lodge this weekend. We had seen some of them when we had gotten there hanging out on the porch. Another lodger was just coming in from the trails with his two dogs excitedly tromping around him in the snow.
The conversation with Gary turned to the new solar panel covered building back there, and he proudly explained that it was the new bathhouse, nearing completion. He invited us to follow him over for a closer look at it.
The bath house is being built to provide more comfortable shower and toilet amenities, replacing the tried and true but more you're-on-you're-own outhouses. But for just a bath house, it's also an eye-opening example of the latest thing in 'green' design...
That black metal panel on the southern face of the building is really a fresh air intake; a simple but highly effective device called SolarWall. The panels are perforated with tiny holes that are designed to warm the air with solar energy as it is drawn into the building through the hot metal panels. Inside, the air comes in through duct work with openings at 45 degree angles to allow a natural, convected mix of interior and exterior air. The ducts also run all the way to the north-facing outside wall, where the cooler air from that side can be similarly drawn in if need be. Barometrically controlled relief vanes on the east and west sides open when needed to control pressure in the building.
The windows are triple-paned, and even the window frames themselves are insulated on the inside.
The exterior walls are double tiered, with insulation in each layer. In fact the entire interior from floor to roof peak is virtually a solid cushion of insulation. Radiant heat piping lines the entire to floor to help heat the space from below.
A "solar chimney" -a black metal chimney heated by solar to create a draft- will pull humidity out of the space naturally in the summer.
The toilets work on a composting system that also uses recycled 'grey water' from the sinks and showers; somehow using just 3 ounces of water per flush. The grey water is slowly drip-dispersed through underground tubing over a huge area.
Not having a truly green method of providing adequate amounts of hot water yet, they will heat it using traditional propane, but through low storage water-on-demand heating units.
Back outdoors, the south side of the roof is almost completely covered with solar panels and should provide most of the power for not only the bathhouse but all the surrounding buildings. (I imagine this is what all roofs might look like once the world starts to see what a waste of space it is to do otherwise...)
Gary explained all of this to us in an enthusiastic but easy, matter of fact fashion. Most of these technologies are already widely in use around the world, with much of the stuff here coming from Canada, Germany and elsewhere.
Bringing this advanced technology to a hilltop in Russell -potential home of a proposed wood burning biomass plant- is mostly this man's brainchild.