Expansion of e-bike trails in Banff National Park sparks controversy

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“Parks Canada has made a mockery of its so-called core planning values ​​of transparency and science-based decision-making. “He needs to reverse this latest policy change, get back to the drawing board and give this issue the public scrutiny it deserves,” said Reg Bunyan, vice president of Bow Valley Naturalists.

BANFF – The number of trails where electric pedal bikes are allowed in Banff National Park has been expanded, including a controversial decision to allow them on certain backcountry trails.

While members of the cycling and mountain biking community are happy with the decision, environmentalists are calling on Parks Canada to reverse the policy change for backcountry trails like the Healy / Brewster Creek Trail to ‘at Sundance Lodge and the Redearth Creek Trail to Shadow Lake Lodge.

The Bow Valley Naturalists (BVN) and the Society for Nature and Parks of Canada (SNAP) say they strongly support e-bikes in urban areas and on local hardened trails, noting that they are doing unquestionably part of the solution to traffic congestion in the Bow Valley and provide a low impact medium for accessing trailheads and park facilities.

But Reg Bunyan, BVN vice president, said using the e-bike on backcountry trails is essentially a form of motorized transportation that allows users to get to nature faster and easier. , which can lead to more user conflicts, greater overpopulation and increased conflict with wildlife.

“It functionally moves the trailhead from the highway to the heart of the backcountry, causing an overall degradation of the wilderness that extends beyond the end of the e-bike trail,” Bunyan said, a retired resource conservation officer from Banff National Park.

“Many municipalities are already struggling to manage increasingly powerful e-bikes on urban cycle paths; how this will be done in a backcountry setting with chronically understaffed child care defies logic.

Only Class 1 pedal assisted electric bikes are permitted on licensed trails in Banff National Park. This means that the electric assistance is only provided when the e-bike is pedaled, the motor should not generate more than 500W, and the electric assistance should stop when the speed reaches 32 km / h.

Pedal-assisted e-bikes have been permitted on the Legacy trail, but a revised order of restricted activity has been extended to allow the use of pedal-assisted e-bikes on other trails, including Tunnel Mountain technical trails such as Topp Notch, Star Wars, and Return of the Jedi.

In the Lake Louise area, e-bikes are permitted on the Bow River Loop, Streetcar Line, and the Great Divide Road.

However, the more controversial trails include the Healy Creek-Brewster Creek Trail and the Redearth Creek Trail.

Specifically, e-bikes are permitted on the Healy Creek and Brewster Creek trails, from the trailhead at the base of Sunshine Village to Sundance Lodge, which is operated by Banff Trail Riders; however, they are not permitted on the Healy Creek Trail east beyond the junction with the Brewster Creek Trail.

E-bikes are also now permitted on the Redearth Creek Trail year-round from the Trans-Canada Highway parking lot to and from the Redearth Keeper’s Cabin. However, electric biking is only permitted on the trail beyond the Y-junction to and from Shadow Lake Lodge, operated by the Alpine Club of Canada, from December 15 to March 15 each year.

Bunyan said BVN is totally unable to understand Parks Canada’s reasons for opening up the use of e-bikes in the backcountry.

He mentions the Banff National Park draft management plan, which specifically states that e-bikes will not be allowed in wilderness areas. It does not refer to declared wilderness, which is a legal definition.

“Parks Canada has made a mockery of its so-called core planning values ​​of transparency and science-based decision-making,” he said.

“He needs to reverse this latest policy change, get back to the drawing board and give this issue the public scrutiny it deserves.”

ATV groups, on the other hand, are happy with the news.

Clare McCann, who heads the Bow Valley Mountain Bike Alliance (BVMBA), said the group is working closely with Parks Canada to alleviate any challenges or apprehensions regarding e-bikes on the trails.

“We’re pretty excited,” said McCann.

“It allows people who might not necessarily have the ability to mountain bike to do it and to do it with a big smile on their face,” she added.

“If that gets more people to cycle in Banff National Park, that’s fantastic.

McCann, who was the first person to have a guiding company licensed to offer mountain bike tours in Banff National Park, said the park is emerging as a top cycling destination, noting that he There are seven electric bicycle rental companies operating in Banff.

“We have phenomenal trails, we have phenomenal sidewalks,” she said.

“We have these wonderful Instagram photos and experiences, whether the Bow Valley Parkway is open or closed; it is an amazing electric bike experience.

McCann said some avid cyclists might find it difficult to continue cycling as they age, so e-bikes are a great alternative.

“If you are a local and age a little faster than your cycling friends and are an avid cyclist, that’s great,” she said.

News that e-bike restrictions had been lifted on some trails came via a November 28 Facebook post from Bow Cycle & Sports, which shared the revised Restricted Activity Order, which had been signed by the two superintendents. from the Banff Field Unit on November 12th.

Parks Canada did not post the new policy on its website until last Thursday (December 2) after the Rocky Mountain Outlook and others began to inquire. At 4:50 p.m. that day, the Superintendent’s office emailed the responders.

BVN and SNAP were dismayed to learn of Parks Canada’s new e-bike policy through a Facebook post at a bike store.

“CPAWS values ​​transparency in its collaboration with Parks Canada and the way this was published violates this principle,” said Sarah Elmeligi, program coordinator for the Southern Alberta Chapter of CPAWS.

Parks Canada began an assessment in 2019 to determine where e-bikes would be allowed in Banff National Park given the increasing popularity and use of e-bikes.

Officials say the assessment analyzed each proposed location, taking into account ecological integrity if traditional bicycles were already permitted, and compliance with the agency’s mandate, policies and regulations.

Daniella Rubeling, Visitor Experience Manager for Banff National Park, said the development of new and innovative programs and services enables people of diverse backgrounds and abilities to experience the outdoors.

“It’s really important to improve the services or the visitor experiences of Parks Canada from an accessibility standpoint,” she said.

Parks Canada is legally obligated to prioritize ecological integrity in all management decisions, but SNAP maintains that this restricted order of activity expanding the use of e-bikes in the park appears to contradict that commitment.

Elmeligi said the trails for e-bikes are in landscape management units where the management plan commits to increasing grizzly bear habitat security, a critical component of which is managing human use. .

“This order of restricted activity further compromises grizzly bear habitat security and contradicts other management efforts to increase it, particularly in Redearth Creek, Healy / Brewster Creek and the Great Divide Trails,” he said. she declared.

“This restricted activity order increases and facilitates bicycle access in sensitive hinterland habitats, which must be carefully monitored. We would like more information on the type of monitoring programs that will be put in place.

Rubeling said there was an e-bike consultation during the park management plan process, but it was halted when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“I want to reiterate that consultation and engagement has taken place, but it’s been a while,” she said.

But Bunyan said that throughout the management planning process for Banff National Park, BVN has been repeatedly told that Parks Canada is committed to consulting, making open and transparent science-based decisions.

He said no terms of reference or monitoring data for the so-called e-bike pilot study had ever been released, leading BVN to believe “that we have regressed to an environment of management decisions of park by whim rather than by science “.

“It would appear that we have returned to an environment of behind-the-scenes agreements with selected stakeholders and where public input is excluded,” Bunyan said.

Parks Canada is also not sure how the decision to expand e-bikes was advertised on social media via a Calgary cycling company.

“I would say we’re still trying to sort that out a bit to find out exactly how it went,” said Rubeling.

“It wouldn’t have been our intention. This is not the way we like to do business.

The full list of trails that allow pedal-assisted electric bikes in Banff National Park can be found on the Parks Canada website.

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