In keeping with an order from their bosses at the Department of the Interior, officials at Acadia National Park are working on a plan to allow electric bicycles in places in the park where motorized vehicles are now banned.
But this does not mean that so-called “e-bikes” will be allowed everywhere regular bikes are allowed now. The park still has some discretion to determine where in Acadia e-bikes will be allowed, depending on whether park officials believe the devices may hurt park resources or put visitors in danger in specific locations, according to Acadia officials.
The Aug. 29 directive from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt says that e-bikes will be “expressly exempt” from motor vehicle prohibitions on lands managed by the National Park Service and that, as a general policy, e-bikes will be allowed or prohibited in the same places where regular bicycles are allowed or prohibited.
Kevin Schneider, superintendent of Acadia, said Monday that the park is in the process of reviewing its management plan to determine where visitors will be allowed to use e-bikes. He said the park has until Sept. 29 to change its rules for e-bike use and that it was too early to speculate how the allowance of e-bikes will manifest in the park.
“We do not know [yet],” Schneider said. “We have 30 days” from Bernhardt’s order to make the changes.
Acadia already allows people with mobility issues to use e-bikes on the carriage roads, he said. Visitors who cannot use conventional bikes are encouraged to contact park rangers about their plans before heading out onto the trails with their e-bikes, he said.
With the leeway the park has in amending its management plan, park officials are not considering a draconian approach of banning bicycle use altogether in places where they think e-bikes should not be allowed, park spokesman John Kelly said. Acadia has the authority to ban, allow or impose some restrictions on specific activities in areas inside the park to protect public health and safety, natural and cultural resources, or to balance other permitted activities or objectives, he said.
The vehicle traffic management plan that the park plans to start implementing next year, under which visitors will have to make reservations before they are allowed to drive to certain areas in the park at particular times, is an example of the authority Acadia has to implement access restrictions to protect park resources and visitors, park officials said.
Kelly said that there are a variety of e-bikes currently on the market. The ones that will be allowed in Acadia will require the user to pedal the bike in order to get a boost from an electric motor, he said. In keeping with Bernhardt’s order, e-bikes that can provide electric power to riders at speeds above 28 mph will not be allowed.
David MacDonald, president of Friends of Acadia, last week criticized Bernhardt’s order, saying that it is “extremely challenging” to apply such a broad change in policy to hundreds of National Park Service properties that each have their own history and specific conditions.
“We would encourage park officials to consider the original intentions and agreements when the carriage roads were first conceived, constructed and donated to become part of Acadia — specifically for nonmotorized use,” MacDonald said, referring to the creation of the park’s carriage road system in the early 1900s by John D. Rockefeller Jr.
E-bikes provide a valuable service to people who use them and are appropriate for use where cars are allowed, he said, but there should be a more deliberative process involving public feedback before the rules are changed.
Matt Horton, a Bar Harbor resident and a member of Acadia’s advisory commission, said Monday he is glad that the interior department has decided to allow e-bikes at national parks and other publicly accessible federal lands. They can be a big help to older people or others with mobility issues who otherwise may have difficulty getting out on the scenic carriage roads, he said.
Decades ago, when Rockefeller had the carriage road system built on Mount Desert Island, his ban on motorized vehicles was aimed at the internal combustion engine, Horton said. Electric bikes are much different from the noisy and smelly engines that powered cars, trucks and motorcycles in the early 20th century, he added.
“You can speed on a regular bike, believe me,” Horton said, referring to concerns that e-bikes might be too fast to be safely used on the park’s carriage trails. “I think it’s a matter of enforcement and education” rather than barring their use altogether.