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Making the Guests' Visit Greener

A Riverside County resort and its guests go easy on the environment with recycling, organic food and gentler chemicals.

May 19, 2006|Michelle Keller | Times Staff Writer

Guests coming to the historic Highland Springs Resort in Cherry Valley are greeted with a spectacular view of the majestic, purple mountains.

Leafy green, however, is the color resort owners have in mind.

The hotel, an old stagecoach stop that is one of Riverside County's oldest landmarks, is in the midst of an eco-friendly renovation.

Rooms are equipped with recycling bins, and housekeepers are replacing harsh chemical-laden cleaning products with environmentally friendly ones. In the dining room, organic foods are appearing on the menu, and in the pool saline has replaced chlorine.

"We want to make it a destination where people think about their health and the environment," said Tina Kummerle, president of the resort.

The greening of this historic hotel comes when many travelers are looking for environmentally friendly policies when checking in. In 2003, nearly 35% of travelers said they would select a hotel or tour operator that made an effort to protect the local environment, and 73% place high importance on an unpolluted environment when they travel, in a survey co-sponsored by the Travel Industry Assn. of America and National Geographic Traveler magazine.

Environmentally responsible travel has exploded around the world, prompting the development of myriad eco-friendly travel companies and clubs.

A 900-acre property flanked by rolling hills ripe for housing developments, the Highland Springs Resort was once the site of a ranch owned by one of the first white settlers in the region.

Dr. Isaac William Smith of Maine arrived in the spring of 1853, when the land was home to Native Americans, and grizzly bears and antelope were thriving.

Smith bought the land from a rancher, settling there with his family. A stagecoach stop was established there, providing "a change of horses and provisions for eating," wrote historian John Steven McGroarty in 1933.

The land exchanged hands several times over the years, ending up in the ownership of Fred and William Hirsch in 1927, who modernized the buildings and created the Highland Springs Resort, an oasis for health-seekers and families, according to historical records.

Its current owner is a South Korean corporation established to manage the resort. The chairman of the board, Byung Eun Yoo, owns organic vegetable and green tea farms in South Korea.

Under the guidance of Yoo and Kummerle, the resort is set to undergo renovation in two or three years but has begun to offer a greener stay for its guests.

The resort caters to weekenders, church groups, motivational speakers, corporate groups and schoolchildren. Camp Highland Outdoor Science School, a weeklong program, is open to schools from surrounding cities and teaches conservation through outdoor activities, said Josie Schafer, program director. About 2,500 students participate each year, many of them underprivileged children from inner-city schools.

On a crisp morning, instructor Kate Eyler-Walker led sixth-graders from Billy Mitchell Elementary School in Lawndale on a hike along the Bradshaw Trail, a route dating to the 1860s. The clear air provided a stunning view of Mt. San Gorgonio and a valley nicknamed Black Bench Ranch, where 1,000 homes may soon be built.

The instructors point out the beauty of the area, said Brett Tillman, program co-director, and they use the prospect of encroaching development to explain the importance of preservation.

The instructors hope children will take home some of the lessons learned -- recycling, reducing waste, conserving energy, composting -- whatever they can do to make a difference, Tillman said.

While the children learn about conservation firsthand, guests can observe the greening of the resort in more subtle ways.

Seven acres of fragrant lavender are planted in patches around the property. The plant needs less water than grass and thereby provides a conservation lesson, Kummerle said.

The housekeeping staff uses cleaning products certified by Green Seal, a nonprofit organization that identifies environmentally friendly products. One challenging item is laundry detergent: It's been tough to find a cleaning solution that is both effective and Earth-friendly, Kummerle said.

Guests are also asked to participate in conservation, primarily by reusing their towels and sheets, which cuts down on water and detergent use.

Simply reminding guests that they can take part in conservation can be effective, said Patricia Griffin, president of the Green Hotels Assn.

Having conquered the small tasks, the biggest challenges lie ahead for the Highland Springs Resort.

Kummerle said that when rebuilding facilities such as camp cabins, which are not of historical significance, engineers are looking to use Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, which ensures that it has been harvested from a sustainable supply. The resort will also seek to use alternative sources of power.

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