Solar lighting fixtures brighten North Woods School trails

Safer, accessible trails for recreation and education

Solar Lights the Way


The North Woods School and community partners in Cook, MN recently came together to serve the needs of diverse trail users in their cherished outdoor space, the School Forest. With the addition of solar-powered, efficient LED lighting, they have created a safe and accessible space for all where both education and recreation have bright futures.


Our goal from the start was a trail that was accessible to all community members. The future is bright for our trail system.

Richard E. Pierce, North Woods School, ISD 2142

Building a safe, well-lit and accessible trail

A CERTs Seed Grant helped the North Woods School (ISD 2142 St. Louis County Schools) and numerous project partners fund and install solar-powered trail lighting to improve the safety and accessibility of a two-mile, multi-use trail located in the Field-North Woods School Forest. Jointly managed by Field Township, North Woods School, and the Minnesota DNR School Forest Program, the School Forest and its trail system provides both education and recreation opportunities to the school, community members and visitors alike. Investing in solar trail lights maintains visibility and security, particularly after sunset, and opens up new opportunities for engaging students in clean energy technology.

Encouraging community participation in the process

Community was always a strong part of this project and planning process. Students and community volunteers have been working on clearing and building the multipurpose, non-motorized trail system for over five years. Leadership from North Woods School Principal John Vukmanich helped secure donations of 50 acres, materials, and time from nearby property owners to help build the trail system. 

The trail itself promotes healthy activities like hiking and biking, provides low-cost activities for all to enjoy, encourages a strong connection with the north woods, nature and wildlife, and promotes outdoor education. Solar pathways provide new ways to engage students in these experiences and help provide a multifunctional outdoor classroom that can be enjoyed by all grade levels. Teachers and members of the project team have explored the potential for other remote solar-powered sensing devices to collect data on water and air quality for use in the classroom and in research, and they are making connections to how renewable energy is growing across Minnesota.

trail lighting

Designing a solar pathway that fits trail needs

The Seed Grant project team researched available off-grid solar lighting technology and design elements that best fit the trail site and project goals for safety and accessibility, even in snowy conditions. Fundraising for and testing the system prior to installation ensured that the lighting quality met the project and site’s needs. With the design and installation led by a local installer, the lighting fixtures included two solar bridge lights and a small series of pathway lights.

All my students said, ‘Sure, Mr. Pierce, we’ll build your solar lights, test your ideas, record the data, write the grants, and stand beside you, in our quest for a brighter future—as long as we can go on nature walks.’ Teachers, take your students outdoors, no matter where you are located. As long as you practice safety, education without walls is a wonderful experience for all.

Richard E. Pierce, North Woods School, ISD 2142

Project Snapshot

  • Technology: Solar-powered lighting
  • Northeast CERT Seed Grant: $2,400
  • Total Project Cost: $11,350
  • Other Funds: DNR, township, school district, manufacturing association donation, utility
  • Project Team: Jennifer Ball - Northern Solar Light, Keith Aho - Field Township board chair, John Vukmanich - North Woods School Principal, Richard Pierce - ISD 2142, Steven Horndt - DNR
  • People Involved and Reached: 266
  • Annual Energy Savings: 350 kWh
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