ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Park officials defended the ban on the use of electric bicycles on Acadia’s carriage roads at Monday’s meeting of the park’s Advisory Commission.
The policy has been criticized by some who say “e-bikes” are used primarily by older people and others who need a little extra boost going up hills and that e-bikes aren’t any noisier and generally aren’t ridden any faster than regular bikes.
Rebecca Cole-Will, the park’s chief of resource management, said 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 nonmotorized,” 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 nonmotorized.”
Cole-Will said that in 1949, Rockefeller suggested in a letter to the secretary of the interior that, since the carriage roads weren’t being used very much by people on horseback or in carriages, bicycles should be allowed. She said an agreement was made to that effect, and it reiterated that the carriage roads were for nonmotorized use only.
“I think it’s really important that we hew to that historical intent of what these carriage roads were meant for,” she said.
Chief Ranger Stuart West said some people are asking, “What would it hurt?” to allow e-bikes on the carriage roads.
“Well, there are electric scooters. There are certainly electric motorcycles out there. There’s not one yet, but there probably will be an electric ATV,” he said.
“At what point do you draw the line? It truly is a slippery slope.”
West said some people have questioned why e-bikes are banned when snowmobiles are allowed in certain places on the carriage roads.
“That was a decision made in 1964, a specific regulation for Acadia National Park to allow snowmobiles to go certain routes,” he said.
The inconsistency in rules for e-bikes and snowmobiles came about, West said, “Because we painted ourselves into that corner over time.” He said it would take a new special regulation from the Department of the Interior, which would require “a complete environmental impact statement,” to change the policy regarding snowmobiles.
West said people with permanent disabilities that prohibit them from using the carriage roads without motorized assistance are exempt from the ban on e-bikes. 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.”
Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said it’s important to think about the future of e-bikes.
“As the technology improves and electronic motors can go faster and faster, we could start to see a potential conflict with other visitor uses,” he said.
He said other federal recreation areas, including national parks, have taken the same position as Acadia.
“On trails that are open to bicycles, e-bikes are not allowed,” he said.