Notice anything different at most forest preserve entrances lately?
The Forest Preserve District of Kane County has installed solar-powered, automated entrance gates at 32 of its most-active preserves. Visitors may notice the solar panels and signs near the entrances, denoting the change.
The Forest Preserve District of Kane County completed an overhaul of 32 entrance gates in December. The gates are now solar-powered, and automatically open at sunrise and close at sunset. All gates were installed by the district’s Trades Division.
To the public, this means preserve gates will now open automatically at sunrise — something especially important to the early risers, commuters, birders and fishing enthusiasts. The gates will also close automatically at sunset. To the staff, the change means a cost savings over time, a more reasonable start time for employees, a more-efficient workday and increased opportunities for staff members to interact.
Installation of the gates has been in the works for over a year, said John Goreth, director of operations and maintenance for the Forest Preserve District.
The district installed its first solar-powered, automated gate in 2014 at Campton Forest Preserve in St. Charles. This site was chosen because of the close proximity to the district’s trades facility. The Trades Dfdivision was able to monitor and test the system at Campton for nearly a year. Next, two solar-powered gates were installed at Oakhurst Forest Preserve in Aurora and Glenwood Park Forest Preserve in Batavia. All three gates functioned properly, with minimal interruption. As a result, the district budgeted for automated gates to be installed at 29 additional preserves.
“Each gate costs approximately $3,600 with a total price tag of $115,200, but financially, it just makes sense,” said Goreth. “The automated system will save roughly 3,650 staff hours and 85,000 miles of driving each year. This allows us to be more ‘green,’ concentrate on other priorities, and increase the efficiency of the entire Operations & Maintenance Department. It also provides better service to the public,” he said.
Another benefit is that the gates can be programmed to open and close at specific times for evening nature programs and other scheduled events, Goreth said.
“After the initial investment and periodic maintenance costs, there are no usage fees,” said South Operations Supervisor Jeremy Jensen. “We’re no longer spending two and a half hours driving between preserves, manually opening the gates. Instead of starting at 4:30 a.m. in the summertime — when sunrise is earliest — our first shift now starts at 7 a.m. Time is reallocated during the day to work on bigger projects and more collaborative, group efforts. We can complete more in-house projects instead of contracting things out, and morale is definitely improved,” he said.
The Operations & Maintenance Department used to require three shifts: Opening started one hour before sunrise and fluctuated throughout the year. The next shift started at 7 a.m., and closing shift went until one hour past sunset, and again, fluctuated throughout the year.
“Another positive has been the increased communication and face-to-face meetings in the mornings. We’re able to do more on-the-job training in different areas. It’s also eliminated some repetition, because we can more easily move staff to different projects as needed,” Jensen said.
The district’s Trades Division installed all 32 gate mechanisms and accompanying signs — a project they completed in December. “The final installation took nearly four months,” said Brad Treadwell, trades supervisor.
“We bought the first gate a year ago as an experiment, to make sure it worked well in the cold, before we invested in the rest. We’ve only had to make minor adjustments,” he said. “Our staff is thrilled and the public is glad they can access the preserves right at sunrise. With the amount of time we’re saving in fuel and staff hours, the gates will pay for themselves in roughly two years.”
With the gates automatically closing, patrons will need to be sure they exit the forest preserves, prior to sunset. The gates do close slowly, however, so should a car arrive at the gates as they’re closing or already closed, the gates are set to reopen upon a car’s approach and close again afterward. Forest preserve police will continue to monitor all preserves, to make sure everyone truly has exited, prior to sunset.
For more information on the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, visit www.kaneforest.com.
SOURCE: Forest Preserve District of Kane County news release
Above: Trades Supervisor Brad Treadwell (left) and Tradesman Geoff Rempert (right) work to install solar-powered, automated entrance gates. Treadwell estimates the gates investment will pay for itself within 2.5 years. CREDIT: Forest Preserve District of Kane County
Feature photo caption: Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva is one of 32 preserves with newly installed automated gates. CREDIT: Forest Preserve District of Kane County