The Tsalteshi Trails Association is lighting things up this fall.
As the days continue to grow shorter, the trail network is wrapping up a two-year project that has added 26 light fixtures bringing an extra mile and a half of lighted trails into the approximately 10-mile trail system located behind Skyview High School outside Soldotna.
The three newly lit trails include the Blue Bayou cut, which will be wired up by the end of the week, as well as the Beaver and Raven loops.
All the additions connect to the 3 miles of trails that are already lit up, offering skiers, runners and mountain bikers more nighttime options.
Bill Holt, who oversees trail maintenance for the trail association, said the added loops will be brighter than the already lit trails.
He explained that the new LED fixtures throw more light and have been installed closer together to avoid leaving dark gaps.
"We ended up putting them higher in the air, too," he said.
"The way it worked out it's a whole lot better lighting and it will be more consistent."
Holt said that he expects the new lights to have a longer life and draw less power, too.
The old fixtures have been showing their age recently, leaving several dark gaps on the lit trails.
Holt said in the weeks ahead he and other volunteers will continue to shore up what's in place by replacing faulty capacitors and bulbs.
Holt was also happy with the cost of the new installations, noting that similar sized projects completed at other trail networks have been up to five times as expensive.
While the light fixtures themselves cost around $800 a piece, Holt said he's been able to keep other expenses down through donations from agencies, businesses and volunteer efforts.
"Many of the poles were de-commissioned and donated by the Department of Transportation and Homer Electric Association," Holt said.
Additionally, he said they bought poles from Fort Richardson for $80 apiece when they normally cost $1,000.
Holt credited four individuals as well, Pat King, Tom Osland, Dan Skipwith and Monica Zappa, for putting in numerous hours to install poles, junction boxes and lights.
He said that when the community pitches in for a project like this the trails benefit in more ways than initially meet the eye.
"It gives people in the community a buy-in to the trail system," he said. "It may have been slower to get going but I think we've done a really good job."
The big question now for Holt is whether the additional lights will draw more users to the trails.
While it's given that, with early winter sunsets the trails are used after dark by skiers, in the last few years Holt said he's seen a growth in the number of people using them in the dark during the shoulder season before the snow flies.
While daylight hours haven't required the use of the lights yet -- the lights automatically turn off at 9:30 -- Holt said they're on for the season.
The system automatically turns itself on through the use of two light detectors.
Skiers who still enjoy a good starlit night sky shouldn't get too worried that they'll have to find new trails soon.
Holt, who describes himself as having "obsessive compulsive trail development disorder," said he would like to see at least one or two more of the shorter loops lit up in the future, but that anything past that will depend on user preferences.
"It has to all evolve," he said. "If people like this and want to go in this direction it's possible we could go clear to Kalifonsky Beach Road but I think a lot of people really like having unlit trails too."
Dante Petri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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