Star light, star bright, may solar lights guide your way tonight!


Natalie Isberg

The bike path lights, which have been installed at Old School Forest Preserve and Lakewood Forest Preserve, have received both positive and negative feedback from trailwalkers and the community. They currently activate during the winter months after sunset.

On November 7, 2020, Lake County installed solar lights on trails in two select forest preserves in the region – namely Old School Forest Preserve in Libertyville (along the 1.3-mile fitness trail) and Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda (along a 1.65-mile section of the Millennium Trail).

According to John Nelson, Director of Operations and Infrastructure for the Operations Group at the Lake County Forest Preserve, “These two locations were selected because we have existing parking lot lights (something most preserves do not have), and we are already grooming portions of the trails at Old School and Lakewood for cross-country skiing” (email communication).

The addition of solar lights provides a tranquil and safe experience. Solar lights work year round, as long as the solar panel receives enough daylight to power up the batteries. In the winter months when daylight quickly turns to dusk, many people in the community previously found it challenging to have enough visibility to get outside, let alone relax and unwind amidst the bliss of nature. Now, the installation of solar lights in the forest preserves gives everyone an opportunity to enjoy the winter wonderland. 

When there are blankets of snow on the ground, people have the opportunity to get in some evening exercise walking, jogging, hiking, enjoy snowshoeing, and even practice cross-country skiing.

Nelson added, “The trails seem to be used most frequently in the late fall / early winter – right after the time change, but when the weather is milder – and then during winter immediately following snowfalls.”

Lake County Forest Preserve has received both compliments and criticism about the solar lights. Nelson has received positive feedback from the Boy Scouts of America regarding the solar lights. “It’s a great program,” one person wrote, “and I love to get our BSA Troop out there to enjoy a different perspective on our natural resources.”  

However, he also received suggestions for improvement from another person, who commented, “Some people going there the first time expect the trail to be lit up like a roadway, but that is not the case. The lights are placed every couple hundred feet apart… On a clear night, especially when there is snow on the ground, one does not need any extra light.  Some folks may want to bring a headlamp or flashlight to use while walking the trail.”

Where Can I Find The Solar-Light Trails in the Forest Preserves?

In order to access the lighted trails at the Old School Forest Preserve, park at the main entrance lot located on the east side of St. Mary’s Road just south of Route 176.

To find the lighted trails at the Lakewood Forest Preserve, park at Lakewood’s Winter Sports Area located on the east side of Fairfield Road just south of Route 176.

According to the website Lake County Forest Preserve, Angelo Kyle, President of the Lake County Forest Preserves, states, “Walking the trails in the evening is a nice way to gain a different perspective of the forest preserves. We realize that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, people are utilizing the trails more than ever as a way to improve their well-being.” 

When Are the Solar Light Trails Open?

This winter, from November 7, 2021 to March 13, 2022, the solar light trails and adjacent parking lots will remain open after sunset until 9 P.M., even though the regular preserve hours are 6:30 A.M. to sunset.

The Solar Lights will continue to operate every winter from November to March and do not emit light during the other months because daylight lasts longer throughout the other months of the year. Bicycle and equestrian traffic are not permitted on the lighted trails after sunset and pets are allowed only if leashed.

The Science Behind How Solar Lights Work

The bike path lights use solar panels to store energy, which then powers the lights at night. The lights can run for around eight hours before needing to be recharged.
The bike path lights use solar panels to store energy, which then powers the lights at night. The lights can run for around eight hours before needing to be recharged. (Natalie Isberg)

According to Innovate Eco, solar lights need direct sunlight to charge. Solar lights will work under shade but not as effectively. They generate and store solar power during the day and then release it at night. The more sun received during the day, the longer they will run at night. Most solar lights need at least six hours to gather sunshine for a full charge and run for at least eight hours afterwards. Every solar light contains a rechargeable battery and a photoresistor that turns on the LED light.

Other Solar Projects in the Works at the Lake County Forest Preserve 

There are other solar power projects that have been completed, with others coming to fruition. A solar panel array was installed on the roof of the Ryerson Woods Welcome Center, which will power the building, and there are also two other buildings in the planning stage, which will be announced at a later point in time, that will incorporate solar power. Nelson said, “All three projects intend to be ‘net-zero’, in that as much or more power used by the buildings over the course of a year will be generated by the solar panels.”