Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Ontonagon opens ATV charging network


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Ontonagon - A sign on one of the cabins at Miller's Cottages in Ontonagon reads "Every summer has a story."

That is especially the case this year as Ontonagon now boasts the nation's first off-road electric vehicle charging network.

Dozens of people involved in making it happen gathered on June 6 at the cottages to celebrate the occasion both formally, with speeches and interviews, and informally, with food, live music and lots of friendly conversation.

"It was like the future dropped down a chimney and said 'Hi, what do you want to do with us?'" said Mike Rebholz of the Ontonagon Village Council as he took turns with other officials who addressed the crowd from a small stage near Lake Superior.

The charging network includes four stations, along with the opportunity to rent electric off-road vehicles.

Andrew Chasse, vice president of strategy and partnership for Polaris Inc., credited the Michigan Economic Development Corporation for awarding his company with a $700,000 grant that provided the financial groundwork for the charging network.

He and other company officials also expressed gratitude for local support.

"I'm filled with gratitude," said Kevin Dwyer, senior product engineer for global electrification for Polaris,

Dwyer said that, prior to the project, he had no experience in electric charging and had never visited the U.P. before last year.

He kidded that local folks were at first suspicious of him.

As he reflected on his experience here, his voice broke: "I saw your passion. I saw your vision. I saw your determination."

He concluded, "I came here to celebrate with you."

Both Chasse and Dwyer commended Steve Hamilton of Hamilton's North Coast Adventures in Ontonagon for his support in creating the system.

"Personally, this just never would have happened if it hadn't been for the grant, if it hadn't been for Steve," said Chasse. "We love that we got to partner with them."

Dwyer added of Hamilton, "The depth and breadth of his love for this sport appear to be boundless."

Hamilton's company also will be the first in the nation to offer rentals of electric off-road vehicles such as the Ranger XP Kinetic that was on display during the celebration.

"It's been a huge team," said Hamilton to The Globe. "It started well before me. I'm just grateful the communities have embraced everything."

Hamilton said he did suggest locations for the charging stations, which include Adventure Mine and the Bergland Township Park.

"They're kind of in spots where you want to stop anyway," said Chasse, pointing out the opportunity to tour the mine, have a picnic, or enjoy lunch in a restaurant.

Moreover, Hamilton - who also offers tours - said that the new option for off-road riders to use electric vehicles will help "to remove the stigma" of the sport because of the elimination of any associated noise and pollution.

"It changes what power sports can be," Chasse told the crowd. "I think it's going to attract new people to the sport."

Before his speech, Chasse told The Globe that the range of the electric off-road vehicles is 80 miles, compared to more than 100 miles of trails to which riders will have access. The charging stations will allow total trail access.

Chasse said normal vehicles can reach greater speeds than the electric all-terrain vehicles, but he added that people using the trails would not travel at higher speeds anyway.

According to him, the electric units provide better acceleration and a smoother ride.

As for the quietude, he said, "It's huge," adding that people traveling in pairs or groups can talk to each other as they ride.

"They're grinning ear to ear when they get off the vehicle," he said.

Chasse said a tutorial on usage and safety also will be given to anyone renting an electric off-road vehicle. In addition, he said that safety gear is provided if riders do not have their own.

Dwyer also mentioned the collaborative role that Yotta Energy played in the operation.

As a Texas-based renewable energy storage company, Yotta Energy made possible the charging hardware that can tap solar energy when feasible.

"It's a great public, private partnership. and we're excited to be a part of it," said Vicki Schwab, managing director of Region 1/Regional Prosperity, for the MEDC.

Schwab said that U.P. sisu, which she defined as "not momentary," but "longlasting," also contributed to the project's success.

Schwab, who is based in Delta County, thanked other officials for "making this a world-class destination" and said, "This project will help support sustainable recreation."

A Mobility Public-Private Partnership and Programming (MP4) grant - via Michigan's Office of Future Mobility and Electrification - provided funding for the project.

The initiative supports modernizing "the state's mobility offerings and its massive outdoor recreation industry as it transitions to more electric and technology-enabled vehicles."

Jerry Wuorenmaa, executive director of the Western U.P. Planning and Development Region in Houghton, added that the new charging network also will help to fill a gap with other electric charging stations for regular vehicles.

Rounding out the celebration was live music by Joshua Davis of Traverse City, who performed on "The Voice" in 2016.

Food and beverages also were available, and the beach was equipped with lawn chairs and another electric 4-wheeler on display in the sand.

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