Sponsors sought for solar vehicles in Independence Grove
Energy from the sun could be used to propel a very different style of police car at Independence Grove Forest Preserve near Libertyville.
The district also would like to have a solar-powered trolley to take visitors on tours of its most visible preserve and the adjoining Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway.
But it will take some green from outside sources to bring the zero-emission vehicles to district trails.
"We haven't gotten any hits yet but there's been some interest," said Barb Vicory, director of the Preservation Foundation of the Lake County Forest Preserves.
For a sponsorship of $20,000, a given company would have prominent graphics and logos placed on the vehicles and also would be recognized as a leader in the foundation and forest preserves, according to the pitch.
Smaller than cars but bigger than golf carts, the vehicles are battery powered and equipped with solar panels.
The district first would like to secure a police vehicle to be used by public safety officers. Though outfitted with typical police equipment, it would be open-sided, making it easier for the driver to interact with visitors.
The vehicle also would be maneuverable on trails, which now are patrolled on foot, bike, Segway or in small pickups, according to Mike Tully, the district's director of operations and public safety.
"It's a very visible vehicle but at the same time it's not obtrusive," he said. "It's approachable. It doesn't give you that police-car-on-the-prowl look."
A solar trolley, accessible to disabled people, would be made available for tours and as transportation for senior programs and events such as summer concerts.
Vicory has partnered with Solar Electric Vehicle Co., based at the North Shore Auto Group in Highland Park.
Vice President Bill Eichengreen said the smaller, less expensive alternative to full-size cars are known as neighborhood electric vehicles.
After a lengthy review, Cruise Car Inc., in Sarasota, Fla., was selected its manufacturing partner.
"With the exception of the 14-passenger, they're all street legal in Illinois," Eichengreen added. One of the models debuted last year at the Chicago Botanic Garden and is in use this season, he said.
Solar panels can extend the life of the batteries by a third, according to Eichengreen, and the vehicles can operate at speeds of up to 25 mph.
"It supplements the power so you get about 30 percent more mileage and it keeps the batteries from draining," he said.
He said the company has contracted to provide vehicles to 20 zoos throughout the country, though not in the Chicago area. The first began operating this year at the San Francisco Zoo.
Vicory said the introduction of the vehicles at Independence Grove will depend on sponsor interest.
"Certainly, we would hope it would be up and running very quickly," she said.