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The story of the Pioneer Solar Pavilion

August 29th, 2018 by Janet, Volunteer Coordinator
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“Once upon a time, in a little mountain town on the edge of a big blue lake, a small group of people wanted to do something. They noticed that winter snows were less deep, and summer days were drier and hotter with forest fire smoke in the air. The group wanted to protect their beautiful lake, which depended on the snow to stay healthy.

“So the group decided to build a beautiful pavilion with a roof of solar panels, based on an idea from a town across the sea, to showcase how it is possible to have clean energy. It was a wonderful plan, but there was no money or knowledge to build something so grand.”

This is the beginning of the story of the Pioneer Solar Pavilion that was dedicated on Saturday, August 25, 2018 at Hess Park in Lee Vining.

Lee Vining’s Pioneer Solar Pavilion is a community-built gathering space that provides shade, electricity, wi-fi, shelter from wind, and information about local pioneer families. Photo by Elin Ljung.

The rest of the story is this: A community worked together and helped each other to create something useful, beautiful, and inspirational. Lee Vining, located at the gateway to Yosemite and in the heart of the Eastern Sierra, is celebrating its pioneer heritage and making a statement about clean energy. Hopefully our visitors from around the world will be inspired by what our small town did with cooperation, volunteerism, hundreds of small donations, and leadership from 350 MONO Climate Action, the Mono Basin Historical Society, the Lee Vining Chamber of Commerce, and Mono County.

The Pavilion has a stunning roof made of solar panels, designed pro bono by Nathan Taylor of High Sierra Architecture and installed as a donation by TJ Chase and Jim Harper of Sierra Solar, the oldest solar company on the Eastside, founded in 1990. The solar roof provides shade and generates clean energy, powering electric outlets for phone charging at the Pavilion, and fulfilling the needs of the Mono Basin History Museum and the adjoining public restroom. The Pavilion has wi-fi and has been wired for a future electric car charger at the curb.

The walls of the Pavilion are a work of art of colorful tiles painted by the children and artists of the Mono Basin and June Lake, honoring all the donors that financed the construction. Many local pioneer families made generous donations in return for a place to honor their family history on the Pavilion walls. These panels will be available for viewing year round, and will enhance the mission of the adjacent History Museum.

Another important feature is an exhibit on solar power and the impetus for building the Pavilion as a showcase for renewable energy. Visitors will be able to see how the solar generation is working in real time via a computer monitor.

Janet Carle of 350 MONO Climate Action was the lead fundraiser for the project. Photo by Elin Ljung.

The Pavilion was made possible by the generosity of so many: Duncan & Ellen King visited Ashton Hayes in England and brought back the idea of a solar pavilion. Tim Banta of the Lakeview Lodge made the entry sign and sliding doors. Deanna Bone-Rundle supervised the tile painting and firing. Mitch Pinizzotto lifted the steel with the family crane. Dave Carle designed all the family history panels. Janet Carle spearheaded fundraising. Ben Trefry created a video to share the project with the world, available on YouTube.

The most critical person of all was the one who actually made the dream into a reality with weeks of hard physical work, an extensive array of building skills, and a knack for taking willing volunteers and honing them into an effective work crew. Urs Willimann was our volunteer contractor and gave the community a gift of lasting beauty.

All of our major suppliers were generous in understanding the shoestring nature of the finances, and responding with discounts and donations. Thank you to Mammoth Welding, Lumos Solar, Marzano & Sons, Sierra Solar, Ashley & Vance Engineering, and Chuck Villar Construction.

And then there is Mono County. Parks & Facilities Superintendent Joe Blanchard was enthusiastic and encouraging from the very beginning. His crew was always there when heavy equipment, additional muscle, or construction oversight was needed. Special thanks to Claude Fiddler, Eric Eilts, Tony Iniguez, and District 3 Supervisor Bob Gardner.

The ribbon was cut last Saturday at the grand opening by Augie Hess, the son of Gus Hess, one of the founders of Lee Vining and the namesake of the park that holds the Pavilion. We are so honored that Augie, at 103 years old, was able to participate.

It takes a village to build a solar pavilion: Ellen King, Ben Trefry, Tim Banta, Jim Harper, TJ Chase, Nathan Taylor, Janet Carle, Augie Hess, Urs Willimann, Rosemarie Willimann, Stacey Simon, Deanna Bone-Rundle, Duncan King, Dave Carle. Photo courtesy of Veronica Lopez.

The Mono Basin community would like to invite everyone to come and see the beautiful Pavilion in the park, to think about clean energy, learn about local history, and enjoy sitting in the shade under the solar roof.