It's electrifying: The U.P. is home to first of its kind electric off-road vehicle charging network

Quietly, an electric revolution in outdoor recreation is happening. And it’s happening in the western Upper Peninsula.

Polaris, Inc., a global leader in powersports, has installed four electric charging stations for electric off-road vehicles along a network of state-designated ORV trails in the woods of Ontonagon County. 

The ground-breaking project is believed to be the first of its kind electric off-road vehicle charging network in the country. The four chargers service about 125 miles of trails in Ontonagon County, passing through the Ottawa National Forest, commercial forest crop lands, and seasonal county roads.

“This is a lot of firsts,” a Polaris, Inc., spokesperson says. “What we’ve said is that we are going to test broadly to learn. When you think of power sports and (electric) off-road vehicles, where is the interest? Who are the customers? What is the demand? What is the need? This partnership with the state of Michigan is really going to allow us to see how they are used.”

About that partnership. Minnesota-based Polaris received a $700,000 grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to establish that first-of-its-kind network of charging stations for electric off-road vehicles (e-ORV).   

The charging stations have been installed in Bergland, Ontonagon, Greenland (at Adventure Mining Company) and at Hamilton’s North Coast Adventures, which is located east of White Pine. The charging stations are accessible to the off-road vehicle trail system. Currently, the Hamilton’s and Adventure Mining Co. locations have been fitted with solar panels; later this spring, the others will be equipped with solar panels as well.

Polaris was one of three companies awarded MEDC grants to support the modernization of the state’s mobility offerings and its massive outdoor recreation industry as it transitions to more electric and technology-enabled vehicles. The aim is to position Michigan as the leading state for outdoor recreation innovation, vehicle technology and sustainability. 

"Electrification is an emerging space in powersports, and we are preparing for a future industry that includes more electric options,” Andrew Chasse, vice president of Strategy and Partnership, Polaris, said a press release announcing the grant last summer. “Electrifying powersports is exciting, but offers unique challenges for the recreation segment, especially for those riders who are looking to take their off-road vehicle on an all-day trail ride or travel longer distances while they enjoy the scenic beauty around them.”

Outdoor recreation is big business in Michigan. In 2021, that sector provided $10.8 billion to the state’s economy, providing more than 100,000 direct jobs and sparking entrepreneurship and other opportunities, according to a new release from the MEDC.

As part of the initiative, Hamilton’s North Coast Adventures, a Polaris outfitter in Ontonagon, will rent out a fleet of six all-electric Polaris RANGER XP Kinetic off-road vehicles as part of its rental offerings. 

Customers weren’t expected to test the “electric trail” until spring, but a lackluster winter inspired Steve Hamilton, owner of Hamilton’s North Coast Adventures, to organize a tour on the e-ORVs.

“This was outside something we would normally do, but I am so excited about this program,” says Hamilton, who has spent plenty of time on e-ORVs because of trail maintenance and other endeavors. “I think it’s going to form some common ground among different recreation-minded people and create different conversations about the outdoors.”

There is frequent tension between off-road vehicle enthusiasts and others in the community who don’t like noise and dust disrupting otherwise tranquil landscapes.  “This allows you to enjoy nature in a different manner. I’m really pumped up about it,” he says.

Hamilton's North Coast Adventures also leases other ORVs. The company has a fleet of six e-ORVs.Advocates of electrifying outdoor recreation vehicles say they reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save fuel costs and, as Hamilton notes, provide a quieter and smoother ride. 

“What’s really cool about them is that there are no greenhouse emissions,” the Polaris spokesperson says. “They are really quiet. People will see the beauty of northern Michigan and really be able to have a quieter experience than on a more conventional ORV.”

Hamilton's contingent of e-ORV adventurers left from his store and traveled about 25 miles to Bergland, where they plugged in their vehicles and walked next door to Antonio’s Restaurant and Pizzeria for lunch.

The group then strolled to the public boat landing at Bergland Bay to check out Lake Gogebic, the largest inland lake in the Upper Peninsula and among the largest in Michigan.  From there, the contingent ventured on their e-ORVs to the North Country trail hiking to Victoria Dam scenic overlook and then back to Hamilton’s shop. 

In all, the group traveled 71 miles in eight hours. The Polaris e-ORVs sport 29-inch tires and are fully enclosed cabins with heat, navigation, Bluetooth stereos, wipers and windshield sprayers, providing the premium UTV experience Polaris is known for, Hamilton says. The machines feature a 110-horsepower, all-electric motor with nearly 30 kilowatts of battery storage.

Participants hiking on a guided tour with the Polaris electric ORVs.“It was such a beautiful day and experience,” he says. “Everyone enjoyed it. It was just perfect.”

That sort of experience is exactly what supporters are hoping for – outdoor enthusiasts enjoying trails with easy access to charging stations and stopping to enjoy other amenities in nature and small communities. 

Jerry Wuorenmaa, executive director of the Western U.P. Planning & Development Region, a six-county state-designated planning region and economic development district, believes the electrification of trails will benefit the region’s local rural communities. 

"It's a great way to experience the natural environment and will be quieter than other vehicles going through the woods," he says. "There is definitely a set of people that it will appeal to, and I think we'll see an economic impact down the road."

That economic impact would benefit towns like Bergland, "almost a dot on the map," home to about 400 people, as well as other communities that are heavily reliant on tourism, he says. 


Bergland, in particular, he adds, is challenged financially, with an older population base and many seasonal or short-term rental homes.  Any boost to tourism would help the community, and travelers visiting or passing through are likely to notice the charging stations and solar panels and “see some progress” in the community, he adds. 

Wuorenmaa, a trustee of the Bergland Township board and planning commission, says the township agreed to give Polaris a two-year land use agreement to put a charger on a municipal lot.

“Local governments have had a role in supporting the project,” he says. “No one has any regrets about doing this. If we don’t like the impact after two years, we can remove the chargers ... but I think this is good for the community."

Are electric off-road vehicles the future?

“I think this is a component of the future,” Hamilton says, noting some people will still want to recreate with traditional motorized ORVs. “There is a need for this type of outdoor vehicle for certain types of people. This is another type of recreation that has fewer negative attributes. For me, riding these e-ORVs showed me that they could open the door for other people to try off-roading."
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