ACADIA NAT’L PARK — By order of the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), the use of electric bikes — or e-bikes — are to be allowed wherever non-motorized bikes are permitted in most National Park Service (NPS) units including Acadia.
The DOI announced the new policy last Friday, a day after Secretary David Bernhardt signed an order directing all agencies within the department to create “a clear and consistent e-bike policy.”
E-bikes have small motors that can be activated to give riders an extra boost when pedaling long distances or up hills. Until now, they have been allowed on Acadia’s motor roads but not on the 45 miles of carriage roads.
The purpose of the new policy, which reverses a long-standing ban on e-bikes in national parks and on other federal lands, is to expand recreational opportunities and accessibility, according to the DOI.
E-bikes provide “an option for people who want to ride a bicycle but might not otherwise do so because of physical fitness, age, disability or inconvenience,” NPS Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said in a memo to park superintendents.
The superintendents have 30 days to develop specific e-bike rules for their parks.
“Park superintendents will retain the right to limit, restrict or impose conditions on bicycle use and e-bike use in order to ensure visitor safety and resource protection,” an NPS press release stated. “Over the coming month, superintendents will work with their local communities, staff and partners to determine best practices and guidance for e-bike use in their parks.”
David MacDonald, president of Friends of Acadia (FOA), said in a prepared statement that his organization has concerns about the new policy.
“While we … support the current Acadia policy of allowing (e-bikes) on the park motor roads, FOA believes that the park would benefit from a broader community conversation and a chance to hear from the public, including carriage road users – walkers, equestrians, traditional bicyclists – before determining whether this directive must be implemented as is, or whether it can be waived, modified or scaled back to best apply here at
Acadia,” MacDonald said.
The new DOI policy pertains specifically to “low speed electric bicycles,” which the federal government defines as bikes “with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (one horsepower), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.”
There has been an exception to the ban on e-bikes in Acadia. The park’s chief ranger, Stuart West, told the Acadia Advisory Commission two years ago that people with permanent disabilities that prohibit them from using the carriage roads without motorized assistance are exempt from the ban. He said he encourages them to display a handicapped tag to reduce the chance they will be challenged by others on the carriage roads.
“Our goal is to get as many people out in the park as we can, not limit them,” he said. “But we do need to keep to the intended use of the carriage roads.”
Rebecca Cole-Will, the park’s chief of resource management, told the Advisory Commission that in 1917, John D. Rockefeller Jr., met with the Secretary of the Interior and George B. Dorr, one of the founders of Acadia, and talked about his plans for building the carriage roads and donating them to the park.
“The agreement between them was that the carriage roads would always be non-motorized,” she said. “They were always intended for the experience of quiet, solitude, getting away from it all, separate from the motor road system. So, from that day on, the carriage roads have always been identified with recreational uses that are non-motorized.”
FOA’s MacDonald said in his statement about the new e-bike policy, “We would encourage park officials to consider the original intentions and agreements when the carriage roads were first conceived, constructed and donated to the park – specifically for non-motorized use.”
In addition to the carriage roads in Acadia, about 10 miles of carriage roads that Rockefeller built are on land in the area of Little Long Pond in Seal Harbor that is now owned and maintained by the Land and Garden Preserve. While those carriage roads have long been open to the public for walking and horseback riding, bike riding has been prohibited.
Kathryn Strand, the Land and Garden Preserve’s director of development and communications, said Monday that the no-bike policy remains in effect and applies to both traditional bikes and e-bikes.