Already on a slippery slope

The discussion about e-bikes on the carriage roads at the Acadia Advisory Commission last week is a prime example of the group serving its intended purpose well.

From the outside, the National Park Service and Department of the Interior bureaucracies can seem mysterious and daunting. Commission meetings offer a chance for park officials to explain the reasoning behind decisions that might otherwise be seen as arbitrary. Few other federal agencies are able or willing to participate in such a hyper-local process where neighborhood concerns can be addressed. Even if officials’ hands are tied on an issue of great public concern, the act of hearing people out goes a long way.

The intentions of those who donated land to create the park in the first place must, of course, be respected. But the stated policy of allowing no motorized vehicles, gas, electric or otherwise, on carriage roads and trails is complicated and strained by the current exception for snowmobiles in certain places on the carriage roads.

Acadia already is on the “slippery slope” officials said that they hoped to avoid with the disallowance of e-bikes on the carriage roads. They have been on that slope since the rules were changed in 1964 to allow snowmobiles on some sections. John D. Rockefeller Jr. suggested that bicycles be allowed on the carriage roads in a 1949 letter, officials said, but the specific history on snowmobiles is not as clear.

At Yellowstone National Park, rules for snowmobiling have changed many times since the vehicles were first allowed in the 1960s. Until a compromise was found in 2013, each new set of regulations the park service rolled out was challenged in court, either by environmentalists or snowmobile enthusiasts.

By 1999, according to The New York Times, only 28 of 378 national park system units allowed snowmobiles. In the Northeast, there were only two: Acadia and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in Pennsylvania.

Snowmobiling is a beloved tradition in Maine. And park officials said that changing the policy regarding snowmobiles on the carriage roads would require new federal rulemaking and environmental impact studies. But pursuing such a change, and getting off the “slippery slope” entirely, may be the best way to resolve a controversy that is only going to grow as electric vehicle technology continues to evolve.

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