Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Light Green Redux: Great Wolf Lodge

I'm on a retreat this week, so I thought I would share a few "Light Green Classics" over the next week.
Here, enjoy memories of one crazy travel destination where you do NOT want to take the family. At least, you won't if you're green.

Due to a travel snafu (in the truest sense of that word), my colleagues and I recently ended up staying at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, TX. This resort contains an indoor waterpark and is relentlessly family-friendly, more like a theme park with beds than a hotel. In fact, the hallways in the residential areas were the scene for a hotel-wide scavenger hunt, in which kids pointed wands (for which they had to pay) at various animatronic wilderness creatures.

While I wasn't exactly thrilled to be there, I thought I'd make the best of it, even after I realized that my still-painful sprained hand would probably keep me off the waterslides. Therefore, I was pretty psyched to see that the Great Wolf was Green Seal certified - Silver, and had a green promotion called Project Green Wolf.

Some kid ran in front of the shot --
 because some kid was always running
 in front of you at this place.

As far as I could tell, being a "green" hotel consisted of many of the same green features that are becoming standard in hotels these days: recycle bins were prevalent, compostable cups were provided for coffee, and signs suggested that you re-use towels. The to-go bags in the restaurant said "Please Reuse!" - but they still used styrofoam to-go containers. All-in-all, it seemed like fairly typical stuff, although their website says that they do re-circulate much of their water, and use high-efficiency light bulbs and appliances.

Mommy, how come when we're camping
the trees don't have TVs?

The longer I stayed there, however, I realized that no matter what sorts of conservation measures the resort takes, their very essence is anti-green (What's the opposite of green? On the color wheel it's red. Well, Great Wolf Lodge is red in its heart). Throughout the entire place, animatronic animals were singing and smiling at you. Fake trees provided indoor shade ...

... and their trunks bore flat-screen televisions advertising features of the resort. If anything says "Screw the woods," it's an indoor tree that grows televisions. I began to feel insulted that the designers of this place seemed to think they could fool you into thinking you were actually caring about the environment when you were doing everything possible to get away from the real thing.

I'm sure that most Native Americans
lived in log cabins.
With pet owls.

To add to the careless re-creation of the American Northwest as a family attraction, an animatronic Indian princess told bedtime stories every evening, perpetuating kids' images of American natives as savages who talk to animals. As an educator who has spent a great deal of time trying to disabuse my students of their stereotypes of native culture, the idea of a bunch of (mostly white) kids sitting down in front of this display turned my stomach. And I like tasteless talking robots.

The woods are messy, dark, mysterious. They can be dangerous, ferocious, tranquil, or generous. One moment they may be dappled with sunlight and the next they might be sucking you into a swamp or confusing you with a false trail through the trees. But the things they will never be? They will never be plastic. They will never be filled with smiling wolves and owls. They will never be indoors.
Unless we teach our kids that places like the Great Wolf Lodge are an acceptable alternative to the real thing. And then, indoors may be the only place we have left to run.

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