Interior Department moves to allow electric bikes in national parks, public lands

noblige/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Visitors to national parks and other public lands could soon see a new form of transportation on many trails: electric bicycles.

A new memo from the Department of Interior
, which oversees the National Park Service and other federal lands, says that bicycles that include a motor that either propels the bicycle or assists a rider with pedaling up to 20 miles per hour should be allowed on trails or in areas where traditional bicycles are allowed.

The National Park Service announced Friday that low-speed electric bicycles will be allowed on park roads, paved or hardened trails, and areas designated for off-road vehicles.

Park superintendents have a month to create rules and guidance for the use of e-bikes in specific parks over the next month and can block use in certain areas to protect resources.

"As more Americans are using e-bikes to enjoy the great outdoors, national parks should be responsive to visitors’ interest in using this new technology wherever it is safe and appropriate to do so," National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith 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," he continued.

A pro-biking advocacy group called People for Bikes has been pushing to include e-bikes in various government rules, saying e-bikes make it easier for people with physical limitations to enjoy the benefits of biking.

But the National Parks Conservation Association, a group that advocates for preservation of public lands, raised concern the policy skirted public input and doesn't consider the impact to other people on the trail.

"E-bikes have a place on national parks’ roads and motorized trails. But this announcement disregards well-established policies for how visitors can enjoyably and safely experience the backcountry in national parks," Kristen Brengel, Senior Vice President at the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement.

"For generations we’ve agreed that there are some places so special that they should be protected for visitors to enjoy away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. This new policy carelessly ignores those longstanding protections for backcountry areas," she continued.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt asked agencies like the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service to develop rules to formalize the policy.

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