Mix of excitement, concern as e-bikes allowed on more Banff park trails

The lifting of e-bike restrictions on certain trails in Banff is drawing both excitement for new opportunities and concern for how it will impact the natural splendour.

'There's a whole array of impacts'

The Legacy Trail that runs parallel to the Trans-Canada highway is one trail exempted from restrictions on pedal-assist e-bikes around Banff National Park. (Patrick Dwyer)

The lifting of e-bike restrictions on certain trails in Banff is drawing both excitement for new opportunities and concern for how it will impact the natural splendour.

A bulletin posted by Parks Canada on Dec. 2 outlines the trails in which pedal-assist e-bikes are permitted in Banff National Park. These are defined by the agency as being capable of being propelled with physical power only and equipped with one or more electric motors with a total power output rating of 500 W or less.

For Clare McCann, president of the Bow Valley Mountain Bike Alliance, the shift is a welcome one.

"We all agree that we want more people on bikes," she said, adding that e-bikes especially can empower people who may not have the fitness required to otherwise take on the trails.

"It levels out the playing field."

McCann said when many people visit the park, they often don't go more than a few steps from their car. The e-bike expansion could open up that experience, she said.

"It's a step in the right direction to get people out of cars to see what beauty we have here."

Access to backcountry

Concerns are also being raised about the impact it will have on wildlife and the visitor experience.

Sarah Elmeligi, national parks program co-ordinator for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society southern Alberta, said her organization is fully supportive of e-bikes used to get around town and on the hardened legacy trail.

"It can help reduce traffic congestion. It's a great way for people to get around. It can reduce emission — like, there's a lot there's a lot of benefits that come with that."

But allowing e-bikes on trails that access the backcountry may have negative consequences, she said.

Elmeligi said the attraction for these remote areas is the lack of other people, allowing visitors a sense of solitude and the chance to connect with nature.

E-bikes could mean more people, interrupting that serenity.

Wildlife impact

It could also have an impact on wildlife, Elmeligi said. 

"These areas are also critical grizzly bear habitat, and grizzly bears don't like a lot of people either."

Other animals including wolverines and birds could experience habitat displacement — when wildlife don't want to access certain areas in order to avoid people. 

The speed of e-bikes may also mean animals have less time to clear an area. Elmeligi said there are already instances of mountain bikers running into bears.

More people could also increase erosion and affect vegetation, she said.

"There's a whole array of impacts and a lot of those impacts are just associated with increasing the volume of people in the backcountry."

Elmeligi said there had already been a pilot on e-bike use and she would like to see the data justifying the Banff expansion. If that data can't be provided, she wants to see Parks Canada rescind the order to collect data and engage in more public consultation.

"This announcement came out of nowhere — none of us knew that this was happening."


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