GRAND MARAIS - Since 1874, the Au Sable Light Station has warned travelers on Lake Superior of the dangerous waters between Whitefish Point and Grand Island. Since the 1990s, however, it has been running on new technology - solar power.
Visitors to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore will have a chance to check out the solar power system used not only to power the Au Sable light, but also the museum and the buildings surrounding the light during Au Sable Day, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
"So far it's been very successful," said Pictured Rocks Facilities Manager Chris Case.
Implemented in 1998, the five-kilowatt photovoltaic system - installed with the help of a U.S. Department of Energy grant - provides electricity for the seasonal residence at the light station, exhibit lighting for the lighthouse museum, well water and fire suppression pumps and fans for the geothermal system that helps minimize freeze damage during the winter.
A separate solar panel system operates the automated 300-millimeter lighthouse lens, which blinks every six seconds.
The solar power is collected from a 60-foot array located near the light house but out of sight, and provides electricity for almost all the needs of summer staff and volunteers that live at the site.
"Our system out there completely provides all the electricity," said Gregg Bruff, chief of heritage education at Pictured Rocks.
Only a gas-powered stove and refrigerator are used in addition to the solar power.
In addition to the facilities at Au Sauble, Pictured Rocks also has a small electric Ford Think vehicle, which is used to travel between the more remote lighthouse and the nearby Hurricane River Campground.
Secured at the campground each night, rangers use the vehicle to travel to the lighthouse for work, where it is charged off the solar power system. The Think vehicle replaced a gas-powered pickup truck that was previously in the park's vehicle fleet.
"We're totally off grid with that electric vehicle," Case said.
Besides the use of solar power at the Au Sauble Light Station, Pictured Rocks has also implemented solar power at seven pump stations around the park that provide drinking water to campgrounds and day-use areas and at a separate seasonal staff cabin which is provided electricity by solar shingles on a portion of the cabin roof. Solar power is also used to power a fish monitoring system on the Hurricane River.
The use of solar power is not only a way to demonstrate the use of alternative energy technology, but also a way for the national park to take a stand against climate change.
"We try to do it as much as we can," Case said. "We show folks this stuff works."
"It certainly has its role. We try to apply it where we can," he said.
For more information on solar power and other eco-friendly measures being taken at Pictured Rocks, visit www.nps.gov/piro and click on the Environmental Leadership Program link.
Au Sauble Day will provide tours of the photovoltaic system, as well as the restored keepers quarters and museum, and presentations on historic preservation measures taken at the site.
To attend Au Sauble Day, drive to the Hurricane River Campground off of County Road H-58 from Grand Marais. Vehicles can be left at the campground parking lot and visitors can either walk the 1.5-mile trail to the lighthouse or catch an Altran bus that will be providing transportation all day. Visitors should keep in mind H-58 is closed for construction between the Hurricane River Campground and the Twelvemile Beach Campground.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.