It was a cool summer morning as we pulled into the Veterans Memorial Pow Wow Grounds to begin setting up for the first-ever electric vehicle (EV) ride and drive event hosted by the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.
As an AmeriCorps Sustainability Project Coordinator serving Metro CERT at the Great Plains Institute, my tasks for the day were to facilitate test drives of EVs from a variety of automakers and answer any questions community members may have about EVs. While this wasn’t my first time helping plan and run an EV ride and drive event, it would sadly be my last, as my AmeriCorps service term was soon coming to an end.
Held on the same day and on the same grounds as one of the community’s most popular events, Leech Lake Days, I prepared myself for what would be a busy day spent helping create new EV experiences for the Tribe and local community.
After parking our wrapped Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) that White Bear Lake Mitsubishi kindly provided for us to display at the event, the rest of the EVs began arriving that would be on display and available to test drive. Sourced from a variety of places including dealerships, community members, and EV owner groups, electric vehicles of all kinds including a Ford Lighting, Rivian R1T, Chevy Bolt, Tesla Models S, X, and Y, and more began lining up.
Soon after, electric equipment and vehicles beyond cars started arriving. Electric lawn care and maintenance tools including lawnmowers, string trimmers, chainsaws, and more were laid out, ready for the extensive user testing they would soon face.
Electric scooters, bikes, and other micro mobility options of different shapes and sizes were arranged just waiting to be test driven by people of all ages.
Once everything was set up and the festivities began, the test drive sign-ups started pouring in at a rate I had never seen before. In between guiding test drivers through paperwork, I could occasionally hear the Leech Lake Days emcee theatrically direct people to check out the ride and drive, which drove even more sign-ups.
There was a short window of time with a noticeably lower number of test drives which, after pausing to listen, I discovered was due to everyone watching the fry bread eating contest – the emcee was excitedly announcing a play-by-play of the competition.
When I wasn’t processing test drives, I was at the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) resource table connecting people with informational handouts and answering community members’ questions about EVs. After conversing with dozens of community members, whose experience with EVs varied widely, a common realization I saw many come to was that most current EV models have more than enough range to accommodate their daily travels, especially for those who don’t travel outside of the reservation often. For those curious about charging availability on the reservation, Leech Lake’s sustainability coordinator, Eugene Strowbridge, created a detailed map of installed and planned EV chargers that promise to expand charging accessibility to more areas of the reservation.
As the event drew to a close, I struck up conversations with the exhibitors as they packed up. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from one of the dealership representatives that this event had the highest number of test drives out of any event he’d worked at before! To me, this really shows that diverse and underserved communities are interested in clean technologies, but one of the pieces missing before many of them even consider adopting them is an effort from multiple sectors and industries to bring those technologies to them to try out hands-on.
To celebrate an incredibly successful event and what would be the last ride and drive event I would help host through CERTs, I test drove a Tesla with the other Sustainability Project Coordinators, feeling the awesome, exciting, and promising power of electrified transportation one more time.