County asks BLM to retain e-bike ban on non-motorized single-track

Photo by Carter Pape

With the potential to allow off-highway vehicles into Arches and Canyonlands national parks in the rearview mirror for the moment, the Grand County Council and Trail Mix Committee have set their sights on e-bikers riding on non-motorized single-track trails.

The bikes are allowed in national parks as of Oct. 1, but the Interior Department allows local Bureau of Land Management field offices to make their own policy. The discussion came during a Tuesday meeting, and at the end the council in a 4-1 vote agreed to send a letter to the Moab Field Office.

Zacharia Levine, director of Grand County Community and Economic Development, said the question of where and when e-bikes are permitted is clear as mud and “in general has created a lot of confusion.”

He said clarification was required on the county’s position. In general – and in the absence of Grand County Council Members Curtis Wells and Rory Paxman – the council agreed the prohibition against e-bikes on single-track non-motorized trails should remain in place.

The issues are many and varied, but a primary conflict regards the pace of travel – and the evolution of e-bikes. Modern e-bikes are more powerful than pedal-assisted bikes, noted Chair Evan Clapper, who said e-bikes would overtake traditional mountain bikers when both are headed uphill, but traditional mountain bikers would catch up on the downhill side.

While council members were essentially in agreement on supporting the prohibition, they also agreed the county could provide trails cut specifically for e-bikes. Member Greg Halliday noted e-bikes are evolving into electric motorcycles, much as bicycles inspired gas-powered motorcycles in the early 20th century. Member Mary McGann disclosed that she owns an e-bike – one that she said she loves. “It has changed my life,” said McGann, while adding that she “fully supports” sending the letter.

Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan suggested the rule change allowing e-bikes into national parks and elsewhere was improperly enacted, because no environmental study as required by law has been completed.

Grand County Clerk-Auditor Chris Baird pointed out that e-bikes would add to the county’s burden to maintain single-track trails, including the need to hire additional people to work on the trails – which were not made for e-bikes, he said.

Members Terry Morse, McGann, Clapper and Halliday voted in support of sending the letter. Member Jaylyn Hawks said she was “not quite ready” to request a complete prohibition.

In the letter to Lance Porter, the BLM Canyon Country District manager, the county requests the bureau evaluate the allowance of e-bikes before any policies are changed.

The letter notes traditional collaboration between Grand County and the BLM over the past decade culminated in the creation of 150 miles of new single-track mountain bike trails, thanks to $300,000 in funding from the State of Utah, Grand County and the City of Moab, and more than 17,000 in volunteer hours equal to about $400,000. The letter also mentions that an additional $230,000 was provided “for trails they believed would remain non-motorized.”

“In addition to dirt trails, Grand County has worked with federal and state government partners, the City of Moab, multiple for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and private donors to develop the non-motorized North Moab Recreation Bike Path System along highways 191 and 128, [the latter of] which is a scenic byway,” reads the letter.

“To date, over $14 million of restricted funds have been spent to provide safe non-motorized access to and from many of the non-motorized bike trails referenced above,” the letter continues. Another $5 million in less restricted funds have been spent on this network of paved pathways. We have also collaborated in the planning and construction of hiking and rock climbing, and equestrian trail infrastructure. Grand County personnel have worked in partnership with the BLM to continuously maintain and improve this extensive and world famous trail network.”

Signed by Clapper, the letter also states, “Our trails have been designed and built specifically for non-motorized use; the higher power, higher weight, and higher speed of electrically assisted bikes will create increased trail damage. If the Moab BLM Field Office changes its policy on e-bikes, Grand County residents will bear the financial and experiential costs of such a change.”