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Giving night walkers an option is bright idea

Libertyville  Sunday  11/4/12   

Kay Grant Keehn Libertyville walk their dogs Chloe Molley Old School Forest Preserve

Libertyville Sunday, 11/4/12 Kay and Grant Keehn, of Libertyville walk their dogs, Chloe and Molley at the Old School Forest Preserve in Libertyville Sunday evening. Though regular preserve hours are 6:30 am–sunset, the illuminated 1.3-mile fitness trail will now remain open after sunset until 9 pm, daily through March 9th, of next year. (Sunday was the first evening of the extended hours.) | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media

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It’s Christmas at Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World in Gurnee Mills starting this weekend. Every year, they offer free crafts and games, seminars, photographs with Santa.

Santa pictures are from 3-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Crafts are from 5-7 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Free games and activities like the laser and soft gun arcade, slot car racing, train sets, remote control trucks and wildlife carousel are available from open to closing time.

Store hours are from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.

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Updated: December 11, 2012 6:04AM

There is something special about being in the forest preserves when it’s dark.

Conservation police can confirm they have bicyclists, hikers, runners using the trail even though they are not supposed to and they will be ticketed if the police find you. Police have had to deal with bicycle vs. bicycle accidents where they ticketed everyone involved.

I remember being at a book club held by a conservation group and one man told me about running the trails after dark and how much he looked forward to it. I also know of some Libertyville residents who enjoy the woods after dark.

I’ve enjoyed it legally by being part of the annual bird count on New Year’s Day with Joel Greenberg, who goes through Old School Forest Preserve near Libertyville and tries to get owls to answer our calls. I’ve also enjoyed the woods just before dawn on hunting trips before and I’m always amazed at how quiet it is and then everything starts to come alive.

The Lake County Forest Preserve is expanding on an experiment they started out near Wauconda last year by lighting a trail with solar lights for people to enjoy the park after dark. It’s been expanded to Old School Forest Preserve off of St. Mary’s Road just south of Route 176. The Wauconda site is south of Route 176 on Fairfield Road.

“It got regular use and we’ve had lots of nice comments from people who said normally they get home from work and they want to go for a walk or walk the dog in the preserve but they can’t because they’re closed,” said Mike Tully, director of operations and public safety.

The lighted trails are open now until 9 p.m. every day through March 9. Leave your horse or bicycle at home because they are not allowed, but you can bring your dog, provided it’s on a leash.

“We’ve had requests every year,” said Tully.

They learned that the McHenry County Conservation District had pioneered the lighted trail at night two years ago and Tully said staff looked at it and said, “This could work.”

And it has. At the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda, the 1.65 mile trail is a hilly and scenic section of the Millenium Trail that they thought people might enjoy cross country skiing on after dark. Of course, the first year they did it. Last year, snow was hard to come by. “But it got used about every night,” said Tully.

They expect the 1.3 mile fitness trail at Old School to also get a steady crowd. You park right at the entrance and then follow the lights. “It’s not light enough to read a book. There are little puddles of light on the ground and you can always see the next one down the trail.

“You shouldn’t have any concern about getting lost,” he said. “Plus, once you get your night vision going, these lights won’t blind you,” he continued.

The cost of this little amenity is literally only about $1,000. That’s how far solar lights have come now. Each panel and light is mounted to a thick post. No one has messed with their equipment so far and hopefully we can keep it that way.

“We’re looking at a few other spots,” said Tully on expanding the program. They need a circular trail and one where the parking is not far from the entrance because there are no street lights in any of the preserves. Let’s hope they can find good spots in all four corners and the middle of the county.

The forest preserve deserves some Kudos for getting this done.

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