ACADIA NAT’L PARK — No matter what Superintendent Kevin Schneider decided about allowing electric bicycles (e-bikes) on the park’s 45 miles of carriage roads, he wasn’t going to make everyone happy.
He acknowledged that last Thursday in an e-mail to park staff in which he announced that one class of e-bikes would be permitted, in keeping with a Department of the Interior directive issued in late August.
“I know this may be a big change for folks personally and professionally,” he wrote. “There are strong, valid opinions on all sides of the issue.”
E-bikes have small motors that can be activated to give riders an extra boost when pedaling long distances or up hills. They were previously banned from the carriage roads and Schoodic bike paths, with an exception for people with disabilities.
On Aug. 28, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt ordered that e-bikes be allowed in most National Park Service (NPS) units and instructed park superintendents to develop specific e-bike rules for their parks within 30 days. The purpose of the new policy, he said, was to expand recreational opportunities and accessibility.
In a press release issued last Thursday, park officials said Class 1 e-bikes would now be allowed on the carriage roads and other places where traditional bikes are permitted.
The new policy defines Class 1 e-bikes as those “equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 mph.”
Class 2 and 3 e-bikes continue to be prohibited on the carriage roads and Schoodic bike paths. Class 2 e-bikes can be powered by motor even when the rider isn’t pedaling.
Class 3 e-bikes can go up to 28 mph when the motor is engaged. These are still banned, according to the park’s press statement, because of the increased safety risk on gravel roads that are shared by “high concentrations of slower-moving pedestrians and equestrians.”
To be consistent with the 20 mph maximum speed of Class 1 e-bikes, Acadia has lowered the speed limit for all types of bikes from 25 mph to 20 mph on the carriage roads and Schoodic bike paths.
Schneider said in his email to park staff that the park’s leadership team rode Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on the carriage roads to help inform their development of the new e-bike policy.
“Based on that experience and many deliberative conversations across this park and the NPS, we have decided to allow Class 1 e-bikes but continue to prohibit Class 2 and Class 3,” he said.
Like other national park support groups around the country, Friends of Acadia (FOA) expressed disappointment that the Department of the Interior allowed so little time for public input on the e-bikes question.
“Friends of Acadia continues to believe that the implementation of this national policy change would have benefited from a full and robust public discussion nationally and locally before going into effect,” FOA Conservation Director Stephanie Clement said in a statement issued last Friday.
She said FOA has heard from “scores of our members” on both sides of the e-bikes question.
“Supporters appreciated the access that e-bikes would give them to Acadia’s hilly carriage roads, but those opposed were concerned about potential user conflicts among equestrians, pedestrians and cyclists,” Clement said.
Acadia officials say they plan to monitor the use of e-bikes so they can assess any impacts on the visitor experience, park resources and facilities.
“The NPS reserves the right to limit, restrict or impose other conditions on e-bike use in the future after taking into consideration public health and safety, natural and cultural resource protection and other management activities and objectives,” the park’s press release stated.
Clement said FOA supports Acadia’s interest in “reinstating monitoring of the types and numbers of uses on the carriage roads, as well as documentation of instances of problems.”
Although Class 1 e-bikes are now allowed on the carriage roads, they will not be transported – at least not this season – on Island Explorer buses or Bike Express trailers because of their weight.
All three classes of e-bikes are still allowed on all of the motor roads in Acadia, including the Park Loop Road.