Briana Gulas points out the differences between chargers in her family’s Nissan Leaf, and talks about the options available for the vehicles to recharge while on the road.
Briana Gulas points out the differences between chargers in her family’s Nissan Leaf, and talks about the options available for the vehicles to recharge while on the road.

Sky Valley residents have helped build the first scenic electric byway in the United States.

City governments, businesses and homeowners have allowed for or personally set up electric vehicle charging stations on their properties from Monroe through Skykomish, creating a 440-mile Cascade Scenic Loop circuit.

Nancy Yarges, co-owner of the Skykomish Deli and Liquor store that sits flush against U.S. Highway 2, bought her first electric vehicle in March, two years after California-based technology company AeroVironment approached the couple about installing a fast-charging plugin on their lot.

“We talked to so many people with electric cars. They were so happy to have them, so we decided to give them a try,” she said, later adding, “We had them installed for quite a while. When they went in I didn’t even think about getting an electric vehicle.”

Their Nissan Leaf is being leased for two years. Yarges said it’s driven about once a week, used mostly for pleasure trips. She said keeping the vehicle up and running has changed how rest stops are perceived.

Depending on the plugin, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to more than half a day to charge. Yarges said that time can be spent wandering around to see the different shops and sites while the car recharges. 

Monroe resident Briana Gulas and her husband take a standard 110-volt electrical outlet and charge up their Nissan Leaf overnight. Monroe resident Marie Hartung purchased and installed a special charger that takes only a few hours to reboot a vehicle.

Both families chose to list their homes as open to the public on an online EV charging station map called PlugShare.com. Some advertised on the site are free, and some require a small fee.

About five drop-in sites pop up in Monroe, as well as one at the Sky Valley Visitors Center and Chamber of Commerce in Sultan, one in Gold Bar, and at the Yarges’s in Skykomish. Tesla installed 12 stations in the Fred Meyers parking lot, but those can only be used by Tesla drivers.

Hartung said she has had a few people take her up on it, but overall EV drivers seem to prefer public outlets. She and her husband settled on their Nissan Leaf because it cuts down costs. Aside from tire rotation and occasionally replacing the battery, maintenance is virtually nil, she said, and the family saves hundreds of dollars on gas each month.

Gulas said she wasn’t worried about offering their charger to the public. The couple just purchased their Nissan Leaf in February. It is used mostly for her husband’s commute, and needs to be charged about every other day. She said she wanted the vehicle so the family of six could create less of a footprint, and her husband wanted it because of how well it drove. Everyone seems to have their own reasons to make the commitment, she said.

Hartung said drivers have to be strategic about their trips if going further than 100 miles. Most affordable models don’t make it past that distance without plugging in at this point, but technology is changing fast, she said.

A new Tesla would cost someone about $70,000, and a Nissan Leaf about $30,000. Gulas said there are other ways to fund the purchase. Her family bought theirs used for about $10,000.

It took many years and entities to plan for electrification of the scenic byway, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. In 2015, Gov. Jay Inslee turned out in Wenatchee to acknowledge those groups, including AeroVironment, Plug-In North Central Washington and WSDOT, according to a state transportation department news release.

“This is an incredibly important step toward enabling broad adoption of electric vehicles in Washington state,” Inslee said in the release. “We’re seeing the exciting results of the hard work by our agencies and partners, and seeing how a cleaner transportation system can help us promote local jobs, rural businesses and clean energy.”

Funding from the federal Recovery Act through the State Energy Program helped set up four fast chargers throughout the route, including the one in Skykomish, according to the release. The plugins can enable a car to drive 15-30 miles in about one hour of charging.

Hartung and Gulas said they believe charging stations have the power to give local tourism industries a major boost. Being strategic about their placement, including in the historic downtown corridor, could turn Monroe into a destination city for EV drivers. So far, few public officials have jumped on the proposition, they said.

There were about 18,000 electric vehicles registered in Washington as of 2016, according to WSDOT. About 12,000 were within driving distance of the scenic byway in 2015. Last year there were about 2,000 EVs in Snohomish County.

Yarges said setting up more chargers means the lifestyle of owning an electric car is easier for more people to access. Having one of the vehicles does shift perspectives, she said. 

“When you do need to stop and do it (recharge) it does encourage me to at least get out of the car and go for a walk,” she said. “I talk to people I normally wouldn’t have. I thought I would find it taxing, but oh my gosh, the opposite is happening — I feel more relaxed.”