As reported by the Detroit Free Press.

When nature calls, campers at Grand Haven State Park can now go green at a new, environmentally friendly toilet-shower building that is the first of its kind in the state park system.

Construction on a similar facility at Otsego Lake State Park near Gaylord is scheduled to begin this fall. Officials hope to replace all the rest rooms at Michigan's 97 state parks and recreation areas with buildings like the one in Grand Haven, which opened for use May 5.

"This is the first of its kind, so we kind of get to be the ones to test it out," says Patrick Whalen, supervisor of Grand Haven State Park.

The water- and energy-efficient product, designed by Grand Rapids-based Integrated Architecture LLC, features natural daytime lighting, artificial nighttime lighting triggered by occupancy detectors, timer-controlled showers with on-demand water heaters and reduced-flow shower heads, and low-flow toilets and urinals.

Solar panels on the roof supplement the electricity for the ventilation system. Building materials, including masonry, metal and wood, were selected for their long-term maintenance qualities.

Clean and odor-free
Green rest rooms are a trend at recreation areas around the country, with some opting for composting toilets that require no water. These bathrooms are billed as being clean and odor-free, and an improvement over portable potties or outhouses found in parks without easy access to water and sewer lines. Advanced Composting Systems of Whitefish, Mont., has installed composting toilets in places ranging from California's Mount Shasta to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to the Grand Canyon.

The Clivus Multrum Co. of Lawrence, Mass., has installed composting toilets at sites that include the McDowell Preserve hiking area in Scottsdale, Ariz., and an outdoor learning center on Washington's Bainbridge Island. New York's Bronx Zoo recently unveiled Eco-Rest rooms designed by Clivus Multrum with toilet fixtures that use 3 ounces of water per flush but rely on composting rather than sewage disposal.

Both companies also make composting toilets for home use.

Back at the Michigan campground, the buildings are part of the state's Department of Natural Resources' Green Initiatives program, which promotes environmentally friendly practices. Other initiatives include cutting back on some mowing, increasing recycling and using biodiesel fuel.

The $750,000 cost of the new toilet-shower building -- including tearing down its 50-year-old predecessor, installing utility upgrades and winter construction -- was paid for by federal and state grants.

The building planned for Otsego Lake State Park will be smaller than the one in Grand Haven and feed runoff rainwater from the roof into a garden of native plants, says architect Ryan Brouwer of Integrated Architecture.

"It's meant to be self-sufficient landscaping," he says.

Randy Pease, also an architect at the firm, says another special feature of the new toilet-shower buildings is the high degree of accessibility for disabled users. The facilities will be 85% to 90% accessible, "far, far exceeding" the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, he says.

Less water and electricity
DNR officials estimate that the Grand Haven building will use about 40% less water and require significantly less electricity than the building it replaced.

"It's really our visitors that we've got to help to educate, try to get them to maybe turn off the air conditioning in the RV unit when they go down to the lake and to not run the luminaries all night long," says Dan Lord, development planner for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Parks and Recreation Division. The division operates the state park system.

"We are trying some aggressive programs this summer to try and get a little more visitor participation to help combat those costs."