CLINTONVILLE - One of the area's most well-established paintball fields is stepping up their game when it comes to being eco-friendly.
Tiger Stripe Paintball, located on Route 9N just north of Clintonville, has recently upgraded some of its equipment and supplies to products that are not only greener, but provide a better quality recreational experience to their customers.
Keeseville resident Ken Eckhardt has owned and operated Tiger Stripe since 1996 as one of few facilities in the North Country devoted exclusively to one of the fastest growing sports in America.
The seven fields at their approximately 20-acre property have since attracted hundreds of local residents and visitors alike looking for a realistic outdoor setting to play paintball, a variant of traditional "capture-the-flag" games where players on opposing teams "tag" each other with small, liquid-filled balls propelled from air-powered guns.
"It's really great to have a place where you can play structured games on fields with a lot of character," said Jim Francesconi, a Plattsburgh resident who plays regularly at Tiger Stripe as captain of The Ferrymen, a paintball team that has participated in tournaments across the Northeast, "and this is the cheapest field to play anywhere."
"We like it to be woods so people can get a feel of being in the wilderness," Eckhardt said.
And it's the vitality of that outdoor setting Eckhardt had in mind when deciding to spend a little more to reduce his business's environmental impact.
One of the major steps Tiger Stripe has taken has been to switch to newly developed "Eco-Fill" environmentally-friendly paintballs.
Most paintballs are spherical gelatin capsules filled with a non-toxic, biodegradable combination of glycols, plant-based oils, and dyes. They are virtually harmless to humans and have little impact on the environment, but some have been known to attract animals or leave unsightly stains, and, in large quantities, they can reduce the quality of soil and groundwater, thereby inhibiting plant growth.
As the popularity of paintball has grown over the years, so has the variety of paintballs available and the number of places that sell them.
"But being as how we are a paintball facility, I want do to things that are more friendly to the ecosystem," Eckhardt said.
The "Eco-Fill" paintballs contain no oils and are entirely water-soluble, so they biodegrade faster and completely.
Considering how Tiger Stripe goes through about 120,000 paintballs per month during the peak of their season, that marginal improvement can go a long way.
Another recent move at Tiger Stripe has been to encourage compressed air as a paintball propellant instead of the liquid carbon dioxide that has been widely used for decades.
"The CO2 is a liquid that is changed into a gas," Eckhardt said. "If you keep shooting, then the CO2 gets colder and it becomes less efficient. With compressed air, it stays pretty much the same."
According to Eckhardt, compressed air has historically been used only by the most passionate of paintball enthusiasts because that more consistent velocity came at a significantly higher price. A refillable compressed air tank might cost up to eight times as much as tanks that store liquid carbon dioxide.
"Now the price has gone down to where the average person can afford to use the compressed air tanks instead of the CO2 tanks," he said, noting the compressed air tanks still cost at least twice as much.
While he still keeps carbon dioxide refills on hand for those that use them, Eckhardt said more and more of his customers are using compressed air and enjoying the added benefits to their game.
"It's definitely not cheaper, but the overall product is better, and the impact to the environment is a factor, too," Eckhardt said of the change. "Not that it hurts a lot, but whatever [carbon dioxide] we can save is benefiting the environment."
As Tiger Stripe nears the end of yet another season of paintball, Eckhardt said he is continuing to look for ways to minimize impact to the natural surroundings that help provide the kind of rustic, outdoorsy atmosphere he strives to deliver to his customers.
For more information about Tiger Stripe Paintball, visit their Web site at www.tigerstripepaintball.com.