Acadia National Park will start allowing electric bicycles on its carriage roads Saturday.
But not all types of so-called “e-bikes” will be allowed, and everyone — traditional bikes included — will have to abide by a 20 mph speed limit.
The rule change follows an order from the Department of the Interior in August, in which Secretary David Bernhardt gave managers the department maintains 30 days to implement new rules allowing e-bikes wherever regular bicycles are allowed. Those properties include Acadia and all other lands maintained by the National Park Service.
Many conservation groups have long opposed allowing e-bikes in national parks, saying that e-bikes are akin to motorized vehicles, which have long been banned from many areas in national parks where regular bikes are allowed. Advocates for e-bikes have countered that the devices are much more similar to regular bicycles than they are to motorcycles and that allowing them will open up large sections of protected land to many people who otherwise would not be able to venture far away from their cars.
Only one of three types of e-bikes will be allowed on Acadia’s carriage roads, according to park officials.
Class 1 e-bikes, which require riders to pedal in order to get an assist from the electric motor and which provide no electric boost at speeds greater than 20 mph, will be allowed. Class 2 e-bikes, which provide an assist without pedaling, and Class 3 e-bikes, which provide a boost up to 28 mph, will not be permitted.
All types of e-bikes are allowed now on the park’s roads and will continue to be. In addition to starting to allow Class 1 e-bikes on carriage roads, the park is reducing the speed limit for all users on carriage roads from 25 mph to 20 mph.
The introduction of e-bikes at national parks and other Department of Interior properties isn’t sitting well with everyone.
The National Parks Conservation Association said Bernhardt’s directive to start allowing e-bikes ran counter to park service procedures that require parks to analyze options and seek public input prior to changing rules related to new permitted activities. By only giving parks 30 days to make the rule change, the decision exposes Acadia to unnecessary visitor conflicts, the group said.
“This administration continues to put pressure on park managers to submit to policies that are at odds with proven management that protect park resources and the visitor experience,” said Lauren Cosgrove, northeast program manager for the group. “More research is needed.”
Acadia officials said they plan to keep track of how e-bikes are affecting “visitor experience (including safety concerns and user conflicts), resources, and facilities,” at the park. The National Park Service can change its e-bike policy in the future “after taking into consideration public health and safety, natural and cultural resource protection, and other management activities and objectives,” they said.
Despite the changes, park officials said, the Island Explorer bus system that serves Acadia National Park and the surrounding areas on Mount Desert Island will not transport e-bikes due to their weight. E-bikes are heavier than traditional bikes because of the weight of the battery and the motor.
The new rules in Acadia go into effect Saturday.