American Solar Challenge Brings Collegiate Teams to Oregon National Historic Trail

By PNTS staff with support from Gail Lueck, Event & Operations Director for the American Solar Challenge

Solar Cars and teams in front of the Independence Court House in Independence, MO which is on the Oregon, California, and Santa Fe National Historic Trails. Photo by Kyla Willoughby, Appalachian State Solar Car Team. Courtesy of American Solar Challenge.

This summer, solar-powered cars travelled in the traces of oxen hooves and wagon wheels along the Oregon National Historic Trail (NHT). The American Solar Challenge (ASC), a collegiate student competition to design, build, and drive solar-powered vehicles in a cross-country event, paired history with cutting-edge technology as solar cars raced along the Trail.  

Participants began their journey at the eastern terminus of the Oregon, California, and Santa Fe NHTs in Independence, MO, ultimately arriving at the finish line in Twin Falls, Idaho. Hundreds of participants from multiple countries competed in the ASC as part of 10 university teams, introducing a new group of people to the Oregon NHT, and the National Trails System (NTS) in general. 

“As an iconic trail, we are pleased to be able to bring the solar cars along this historic route, allowing the college students to experience the trail and the communities along the trail to experience the solar cars,” said Gail Lueck, Event and Operations Director for the ASC. Gail is part of the team at the Innovators Educational Foundation (IEF), the nonprofit which organizes the ASC and other collegiate solar car events to provide multi-disciplinary learning opportunities for college students. 

The ASC is a long-term educational event that requires two years of dedicated planning, training, fundraising, and testing. Students who participate receive a hands-on experience that builds real-world skills applicable to participants’ future careers such as communication, teamwork, design, and project management. Additionally, they are exposed to historic trails and outdoor professionals, which may lead to a deeper interest the NTS or a consideration of a career in the outdoor sector. 

During stops along the more than 1,400-mile route, local community members were given the unique opportunity to see the solar cars, meet the teams, and celebrate the journey of these new solar car “trail travelers.” Additionally, participants in the ASC had the opportunity to learn about and explore the Oregon NHT from National Park Service (NPS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Rangers. 

The IEF has partnered with the NPS since 2016 to bring the ASC to public lands and trails. This year, the NPS National Trails office – Regions 6, 7, 8 provided interpretation of the trail’s history through a traveling interpretive display at stops along the trail. Park Rangers and interns shared history, guided visitors through an Oregon Trail game, and awarded new Junior Ranger badges to those who completed a trail-related activity. 

The ASC is not new to National Historic Trails—the competition was held on the Oregon NHT in 2018 and the Santa Fe NHT in 2021. Each time the ASC follows a National Trail, a new group of young adults is exposed to the NTS, and potentially become trail fans for life.

Learn more about the American Solar Challenge at