The U.S. Secretary of the Interior has made a top-down decision about the use of electric bikes on National Park Service lands, bucking policies that today are set individually by parks.
Going forward, electric bikes, aka e-bikes, will be on an even playing field with human-powered bicycles, according to a policy memorandum that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed Thursday and gave to the media Friday.
“E-bikes are allowed where traditional bicycles are allowed,” the four-page policy reads. “E-bikes are not allowed where traditional bicycles are prohibited, including wilderness areas.
“The intent of this policy,” the document says, “is to allow e-bikes to be used for transportation and recreation in a similar manner to traditional bicycles.”
Northwest Wyoming’s two national parks were caught off guard by the directive from their federal government parent department. When reached by phone Friday, public affairs officials said they had no idea when the policies would officially change.
“We don’t have any details at this time about how this affects Yellowstone,” spokeswoman Rebecca Roland said. “We’re awaiting guidance from the national office.”
Previously, there was no National Park Service-wide policy on e-bikes. Electric and pedal-assist bicycles are prohibited in all parts of Yellowstone except roads that are open to public motor vehicles, according to the superintendent’s compendium.
In Yellowstone, one likely change would apply to shoulder seasons, allowing e-bikers on interior roads during fall and spring periods when those roads are closed to motorists but open to people on regular bikes. E-bikes have been banned on interior Yellowstone roads after they close to cars in the fall and after the plows punch interior roads open in the spring — times when ordinary bicycles are legal.
In Grand Teton National Park, e-bikes have been banned on the celebrated pathway network but allowed on the parallel roads alongside traffic. Like in Yellowstone, e-bikes were also prohibited from Teton Park Road during the stretch of spring when the road is plowed and off-limits to cars, but popular with walkers and bikers.
Bernhardt’s policy seeks to align rules in the parks with those of the states where they’re located.
“National parks should be responsive to visitors’ interest in using this new technology wherever it is safe and appropriate to do so,” Daniel Smith, the service’s deputy director, said in a statement. “They make bicycle travel easier and more efficient, and they provide an option for people who want to ride a bicycle but might not otherwise do so because of physical fitness, age, disability, or convenience, especially at high altitudes or in hilly or strenuous terrain.”
The policy does not strip superintendents of their authority to determine where bicycles and e-bikes are or aren’t allowed, the memorandum says.
One professional Jackson Hole cycling advocate reached Friday was glad to learn of the policy change, though he said there would be some safety and education issues to work through.
“Wyoming Pathways supports the change to allow e-bikes,” said Tim Young, the group’s founder and executive director. “It seems compatible with current Wyoming statutes, as I understand it.”
A bonus, Young said, is that the change could cut down on accidental illegal use of Teton park pathways, which are often unknowingly poached by out-of-towners. The directive, he said, could also help national parks ease congestion on their often-overcrowded roads and make a dent in their contributions to climate change. Road-trippers and the automobile-centric layout of parks, he said, make a “big contribution” to greenhouse gasses, and allowing e-bikes will help reduce that.
The Park Service has 30 days to come up with a policy that will implement Bernhardt’s directive, Teton park spokesman C.J. Adams said.