Utah national parks open to ATVs Nov. 1

This is an e-bike for sale at Blaze Bicycles in Moab. Photo by Doug McMurdo

It is not an idea embraced by all, but electric bicycles – AKA e-bikes – are now allowed “where traditional bicycles are allowed” at all national parks and monuments as of Tuesday, Oct. 1 – and that will be followed by allowing ATVs and UTVs at the same parks and monuments effective Nov. 1.

According to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune, the off-road vehicles will be allowed only in Utah’s federal parks and monuments due to state law that allows owners to drive them on state and county roads as long as they have the required safety equipment and are registered and insured.

Also, ATVs and UTVs are not allowed to leave designated roads. They are, essentially, confined to the same roads as passenger vehicles.

What the policy change might mean in southeastern Utah is unclear. A telephone call seeking comment from Kate Cannon, superintendent of the Southeast Utah Group of National Park, was not returned by press time.

While environmental groups have been critical of the move, ongoing efforts to ease traffic congestion at Arches National Park – both at the park and in Moab, where the tourists stay – could be worsened by bringing in a new kind of tourist. Another concern, according to the Tribune, is that riders will ignore the rules prohibiting off-road travel and there’s little that could be done to stop them. Noise and air pollution would increase.

According to the Tribune, State Representative Phil Lyman, a former San Juan County commissioner, was a key advocate of the change. The newspaper said he “pressured the Interior Department to lift the prohibition,” and told Interior Secretary David Bernhardt he was “offended” the National Park Service “discriminates against off-highway vehicle owners.”

The Blanding resident was not alone as 13 other lawmakers signed his letter. The Tribune said groups that advocate for the state’s more than 200,000 registered ATV or UTV users also pushed for inclusion. But opponents claim users will go off-road and destroy natural resources, reasoning the machines are made explicitly to travel off-road. Park rangers would be unable to pursue them even if they did see them leave the designated road.

“UTVs are built for one reason, which is off-road use. That is the purpose for the existence of these machines,” Neal Clark of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance told the Tribune. “They’re loud and obnoxious and because of that they’re completely contrary to the reasons that people travel from across the globe and across the country to visit national parks.”

The e-bike policy change was made Aug. 29 in an effort to expand recreational opportunities and accessibility, according to a statement from the Southeast Utah Group of National Parks that includes Arches and Canyonlands, as well as Natural Bridges and Hovenweep national monuments.

Bernhardt signed an order directing the department’s bureaus to “create a clear and consistent e-bike policy on all federal lands” that the Interior Department manages. Bicycles and e-bikes are allowed on paved and unpaved roads that are open to the public. They are not allowed on any trails in the parks and there are no charging stations. Generators are not allowed in the backcountry.

The e-bike policy in its entirety can be read online at www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/ebikepolicy.htm.