Posts Tagged: driftless region trails

Making Cents of Electric Vehicles in the Driftless!

SunsetRoad_Fall_2015

“Electricity is really just organized lightning…”  -George Carlin

Story and photos by Benji Nichols, except as noted

Imagine pulling out onto the street as your foot leans into the accelerator. You move forward – silently – off on a trip to work, school, errands, or across the region. Now imagine not using a drop of gasoline to do it. Too good to be true? It’s not!

Electric vehicles (EVs) are not a new concept, but technological evolution and incredibly efficient operating costs are making EVs more realistic than ever for many households. Here at Inspire(d) HQ, we’ve been enjoying the rewards of our own solar PV array for the past year, and we’re constantly engaged in what technologies are coming on line to help lessen our immediate impacts on fossil fuel use. Sure, there’s an immediate ‘feel-good’ effect, but increasingly the technology is actually making economic sense as well. Ride along as we cruise through our latest road-trip into electric vehicles.

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(Decorah resident George Hagen shows us the Nissan Leaf charging ports.)

Most EVs (only electric – not hybrid) have a rough average of 30 to 80 miles available without a charge, and Hybrid EVs that also operate on gas have ranges widely expanded  beyond that. According to recent US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration surveys, well over half of commutes and daily-use car trips in the US are under 30 miles roundtrip. Even with a sizable amount of commutes averaging 40 miles, there’s huge potential for EVs. Just think: All your quick trips can be done in a vehicle that requires no gasoline, and can charge anywhere a standard plugin is located – we think that idea is pretty cool!
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(Photo courtesy of Honda Motorwerks)

Many of our readers are familiar with Chris Schneider (aka The “Hybrid Guru”) of La Crosse’s Honda Motorwerks. Chris has been fueling the alternative vehicle movement in the Driftless Area for years and is an incredible source of information, and of course vehicles. A recent adventure included a trek across the state of Wisconsin to deliver a fully electric Nissan LEAF EV, which is quite an adventure considering that the LEAF has average range of about 80 miles. To top it off, the vehicle was being delivered to Milwaukee, so it was decided that a natural gas vehicle (NGV) would chase for the return trip – just to up the alternative fuel vehicle fun! With the range in mind, the trip required four stops for charging, three of which were about the standard amount of time for a coffee or lunch break. The trip was a grand success, and proved that EVs, although still having limited ranges, can make longer and longer trips as charging technology increases as well. Honda Motorwerks has been a regional and national leader in the use of alternative energy vehicles for years – and Chris is quick to point out that the Decorah area is full of early adopters. In fact, seven of the first 10 EVs that Motorwerks brought into the region years ago all went to the Decorah area. 

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(Electric Charging Station at HyVee, Iowa City – free for customers!)

Most of the major car manufacturers are now making, at the very least, a hybrid electric/gas vehicle – and many are making strict EVs like the Nissan LEAF or Ford Focus EV that run on electricity only and, as mentioned, can be charged on a standard household plug-in (usually taking a few hours to overnight to reach full capacity). But many vehicles are charged more rapidly by different “level” chargers, which are becoming more common across the country – even in places along Chris Schneider’s Wisconsin road trip like Middleton, Madison, and Waukesha. Level 3 charges can bring charging times down to under half an hour for many models.  Some commercial recharging locations require small fees for electricity (a couple dollars) while companies like Tesla are creating their own networks of charging stations that provide the power for free – as an incentive to buy their EVs.

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(Tesla Model ‘S’ on display on the Iowa City PedMall during EntreFest, May 2015)

There are a lot of pro and some con points that could be made when considering EVs – from range to environmental to battery technology, and of course, that a large part of the electricity supply still comes from fossil fuels. But we think there is a unique place in our society right now where electric vehicles can truly help “bridge” the road to energy independence. Here at Inspire(d) HQ, we installed a small solar system (eight panels – about 2kw) just about a year ago. We’ve seen a really nice decrease in our monthly electricity bills, but more importantly, it has also helped us to be even more aware of our electricity usage – and the really cool fact is that when we walk out to our garage and the sun is shining – we know we’re making electricity! It really is an amazing experience to know you’ve lessened your dependence on fossil fuels by any amount. As we think about how many miles we drive – and especially those local miles running kiddos around and doing errands, we can see where an electric vehicle could make a lot of economic sense.

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(George Hagen showing us the interior controls of the Nissan Leaf)

Decorah residents George and JoAnn Hagen agree. They have been big supporters of alternative vehicles for several years. George cites his background working as an engineer on conservation projects for Chevron in the late 1970s as sparking his personal interests. A 1980 Datsun was the first vehicle he owned that reached 40mpg, and that sparked a string of vehicles over the years that strived for economic impacts, including the Honda Insight – one of the first hybrid vehicles available in the US around 2000.

IMGP6837George still proudly garages their 2000 Honda Insight and is quick to point out that it was also one of the first four to make it to this part of the country via Honda Motorwerks in La Crosse. A Toyota Prius followed in 2005, and in October of 2014 the Hagens acquired their Nissan Leaf – the first 100% electric hybrid they’ve owned. Despite varying experiences on range of trip with the Leaf (both George and JoAnn comment that NE Iowa’s Hills take a toll on the EV’s range!) its clear that the vehicle is fun to drive and certainly does well on local trips, with plenty of power and take-off for around town as well as short highway trips. The Hagens also have a large Solar PV array on their garage and home, so again, the ability to produce one’s fuel for driving comes full circle with the Nissan Leaf.

IMGP6631Meanwhile in Decorah, more than a couple families have invested in the Chevy VOLT – a hybrid gas/electric vehicle that allows for a smaller electric-only range which is then assisted by a gas powered generating “engine” that enables further distance. Ben and Padrin Grimstad were kind of enough to give us a few minutes to check out their VOLT, which they – and their high-school aged daughter – enjoy driving. The electrical charging system allows for a nice around-town range, but isn’t necessary to use the vehicle, which still obtains excellent mileage without regular plug-in charging, as most hybrids do.
IMGP6638Ben says the car is fun to drive, with plenty of pick-up and acceleration, and fun on-board tools and design to let the driver see what is going on with the vehicle. As a local business owner, he also enjoyed being able to purchase the car from an in-town dealer, and that the family’s additional investments in solar power are paying off in multiple ways, like partially powering their VOLT.

Personally, one of my biggest surprises in researching EVs has been both the performance, and surprisingly good ride of these vehicles. They really do have a different ride and solid feel because of the additional weight of batteries and generally shorter wheel base. Combining their low-to-no-gas mileage ranges with the fact that many Driftless Region residents and businesses have installed solar arrays, EVs are becoming a more practical choice every day.

As more EVs hit the market, expect to see local businesses offering EV Charging stations and specific parking spots as well – we’ll be on the lookout to see who leads the way! We love the EV concept here at Inspire(d) HQ. Granted, like any vehicle, the investment is not small, but the benefits are certainly beginning to stack up. Who knows – we may be delivering magazines in a Solar powered EV soon! Vrrrrooom vrroooom!

Driftless? Try Drift-more: Another Look at Why We Love the Driftless Area

By Lauren Kraus
Printed in the October/November 2008 edition of Inspire(d)

This is the fourth in a series of articles that serves as a tribute and tutorial of the amazing hiking, biking, and walking trails in the Driftless Area, a region in the Midwest lacking “glacial drift.” By escaping the glacier’s path in the most recent Ice Age, the Driftless Area was not flattened out like much of the Midwest. Thus, the trails and scenery are supreme.

Nature is second nature to me. I don’t even think twice about choosing between watching a movie and going for a hike or a run. Don’t get me wrong – who doesn’t love a good movie? – But, being outside keeps me ticking, brings me peace and makes me happy.

This is why I have delighted in getting out and exploring several areas of our region here in Northeast Iowa. This land is just awaiting adventurers to trod its trusty ground and relish in spectacular views. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed and gotten good use out of the trail suggestions I have brought to Inspire(d) during the spring and summer months, and check back in the spring for a continuation of the series.

Let us recap: we started off learning of this area’s unique natural landscape known as the “Driftless Area” – a region in the Upper Midwest lacking “glacial drift” and consequently being laden with deep river valleys, rolling bluffs and pronounced limestone outcroppings. First, romping around on Decorah’s awesome trails makes us realize how great this locale is. Next, we were wowed by the rugged variety offered at Pine Bluff 4-H camp and Coon Creek. In September, we went a little further and soaked in the lush Bear Creek and Pine Creek areas. I think Jerry Garcia and friends would agree, what a long, great trip it’s been.

As this year’s trail series wraps up and you snuggle into a comfy sweater in preparation for crisp fall days and cool evenings, keep hiking! When the snow greets us, pull out those skis and snowshoes! Keep taking solace in the beauty that encompasses Decorah and the surrounding region. The access to remote landscape is right out your backdoor and the abundance of rugged trails is great enough to write articles for years to come. You have got to love this area.

For this issue, we’re heading northwest of Decorah to two little hidden gems a fellow outdoor enthusiast recently introduced to me. A quick drive from Decorah makes Falcon Springs State Wildlife Area and Lionberger Environmental Preserve prime destinations for an afternoon stroll or a weekend hike-n-picnic outing. Whatever your mode, get out there soon to catch some enchanting fall color and an escape from the daily grind.

Falcon Springs State Wildlife Area:

This patch of land is diverse in its thick forests and open cornfields. I was amazed at the variety of trees in such a small space. Aspens (my personal favorite), sumacs and white pines provide ample forest to trek through and explore. After parking, head down a two-track road that winds down and up through an open corn field and leads to thick forest. A small loop on this road takes you around the wooded area. If you’re feeling really adventurous, take a detour on one of several deer trails that run through the forest. Hike in the direction of the white pines and you’ll find yourself in a very cool area to explore. This would also be a perfect place to try out some new snowshoes. To check out Falcon Springs: drive west on Pole Line Road about 4 miles and look to the right-hand side or the north. There is a small gravel parking area with a state wildlife area sign. Have fun.

http://www.stateparks.com/falcon_springs.html

Lionberger Environmental Preserve:

This beautiful chunk of land is located right before or just east of Falcon Springs four miles out on Pole Line Road and is owned by Luther College. Two cool forests for one easy drive. After parking on the left side of the road, you’ll start by descending a large hill leading into a deep valley. This valley opens up to lots of trails heading in every direction and ready for thorough discovery. Thick woods make it easy to get lost in thought in this rugged forest. Put on your boots and hit the trails!

Lauren Kraus loves the quiver of aspens in the wind and the sound of leaves crunching and bats chirping as they flutter around her apartment when they squeeze in for some fun. Ok, the bat part is a lie. Thank goodness for brave mavericks who kindly take them outside.

Creek Check: Exploring the Backwoods of Winneshiek County’s Bear Creek and Pine Creek Areas

By Lauren Kraus

Printed in the September 2008 edition of Inspire(d)

This is the third in a series of articles that serves as a tribute and tutorial of the amazing hiking, biking, and walking trails in the Driftless Area, a region in the Midwest lacking “glacial drift.” By escaping the glacier’s path in the most recent Ice Age, the Driftless Area was not flattened out like much of the Midwest. Thus, the trails and scenery are supreme.

September has arrived and I can hardly believe it. After the commotion of the June (08) flooding in Decorah, I hope the summer brought relaxation and rejuvenation for everyone. I spent a good portion of my summer traveling to different stretches of the country including Utah’s Lake Powell. This man-made reservoir sits at the bottom of a tall, expansive canyon with several narrow fingers jetting off taking a boater or canoeist deep into sandstone crevasses. After days of dry heat, blue water and red rock, my return to the green Decorah landscape was intoxicating. The dense, lush wooded sprawls never cease to amaze me.

As summer slowly transitions into autumn and temperatures fall, the time to get out and hike, walk, bike, or run in the woods is prime and precious. Heading north of Decorah toward Highlandville offers a couple of tremendous treks I strongly suggest hitting up on a free Saturday or even one evening after dinner. Also, keep these places and the other areas I have written about in mind as the winter rolls in for some great snowshoeing and cross country skiing opportunities.

South and North Bear Creek Public Access Area:

South Bear Creek offers a gentle, winding creek side path with incredible rock formations along the water to view. Who knew there were such rocks in this area? This path is a bit shorter in length and stays near the road for easy access.

North Bear Creek is a rugged two-track road with creek crossings and good fishing. Expect some good backwoods running or walking for a potential seven miles total out and back. The water is higher now, so take caution when tromping through the creek (wear shoes that can get wet and muddy).

To reach these beautiful spots, head north on Locust Road leaving Decorah. Take a right on Big Canoe Road then a left on Highlandville Road heading toward the town. Go right on Quandahl Road in Highlandville. South Bear Creek is accessible by any of the three parking areas on the right hand side that you’ll hit soon after you have turned onto Quandahl Road. Continue on Quandahl for roughly three miles to reach North Bear Creek. A parking area will be on the left hand side of the road before a bridge. (Cross the bridge and head a bit further to get to the home of yummy Bear Creek Honey or the Bear Creek Inn.)

Pine Creek Wildlife Management Area:

Pine Creek is a rugged, thick hillside with awesome wildflowers. Hiking here is less guided by any paths and more rough country tromping – more adventurous if you ask me. Wear long pants and you’ll be set. Approaching the area, you will start in a field with the bluff on your right side. Walk in a bit until you see a clearing on the hillside. It is at this point where you can access an old, two-track road that is pretty overgrown. (This is why it’s bushwhacking-hiking.) Put on your safari hat and have some fun. Definitely remember this spot for some killer snowshoeing.

To access Pine Creek, head north on Locust Road leaving Decorah. Take a right on Big Canoe Road and continue on until the pavement ends, gravel begins. Take a right on Balsam Road, go down a large hill. Before you cross a bridge, you’ll see a parking area on the right and a sign that reads “Pine Creek Wildlife Management Area.” Enjoy.

Lauren Kraus, Colorado native and lover of Decorah, spent the summer jet setting and definitely seeing some sweet sights. Three travel highlights include: cliff jumping in Lake Powell, sleeping under the Montana night (big) sky and hiking amongst the glaciers and ripe blackberries in the Cascade Mountains of Washington.