Let There Be Light

Historic preservation, modern technology, and workforce training came together to bring light to Stowe Land Trust’s Mill Trail cabin this autumn. The cabin was constructed in 1935 in a unique Moravian style and was part of one of Stowe’s first ski-in roadside inns near Ranch Camp. Recently restored, the cabin is home to Stowe Land Trust’s Summer Naturalist Program which educates and connects people of all ages to conservation and Stowe’s history and great outdoors during the summer months. 

Although a great jumping-off point for exploring Stowe Land Trust's Mill Trail, showing off the cabin’s unique interior features has been a challenge. Without lighting, visitors missed out on getting a good look at its beautiful stone and woodwork, hand-forged hardware, and other architectural details. Reading inside was also difficult, making the cabin less functional as an educational and meeting space.

For Stowe Land Trust, solar power was a natural choice.

It is a renewable energy source that will maintain the rustic, off-grid nature of the cabin. Partnering with the Green Mountain Technology & Career Center’s Electrical Technology Program to design and install the lighting system was also an easy decision. Led by master electrician and instructor, Dana Jourdan, a small team of high school students gained real-world work experience that will help prepare them for career opportunities in the electrical industry. For all five electricians-in-training, this was their first – but likely not their last – solar project.  

The solar panels were sited behind and uphill from the cabin to maximize solar exposure and minimize visibility by visitors. To preserve the historic integrity of the building, Dana and his students carefully selected fixtures that tie in with the design of the cabin, surface-mounted wires, and located the bank of four batteries charged by the solar panels under an existing work bench.

"This project was a great lesson for the students," said Dana Jourdan, Electrical Technology Program Instructor. "It helped them see the level of focus, drive, and determination that it takes to complete a professional and complex system."

It was also a fun and rewarding challenge. On the last day of the project, the team worked late into the day. Everyone was tired but the excitement of finishing the project kept them going. Finally, they made the last of a few key connections and turned the system on. The moment the first light turned on all the students cheered and ran room to room to admire their work. "Those are the moments a teacher lives for," said Dana.

With funding provided by Helen and Bowie Duncan along with many other supporters to a Special Projects Fund, this project has met many of Stowe Land Trust’s goals. We’ve improved the function of the cabin, teamed up with a new partner to provide a great educational opportunity for students in our community, and put renewable energy to work to meet our needs. Dana will continue to use the lighting system as a teaching tool for his future classes, and visitors to the cabin will enjoy its light for years to come. 

Want to see the Mill Trail cabin lit up for yourself? Join us on Saturday, January 19, 2015 for a snowshoe along the Mill Trail followed by a fire at the cabin afterwards. For more information or to register, click here.

Photos by Ian Booth

Custom-welded frame for the panels
Digging hole for the pole and trench for the conduit
Preparing to install the frame
Setting the frame for the panels
Sun!
Teamwork
Wiring the panels
Mounting the light fixtures
Master plan
The team and panels
Custom design
Building the switch box
Lights are on!