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Alberta Parks launches e-bike trial in K-Country

Alberta Parks has launched a pilot program allowing pedal-assist e-bikes on designated pathways and trail networks until October 2020.

KANANASKIS – A new e-bike policy has been rolled out for Kananaskis Country.

Alberta Parks has launched a pilot program allowing pedal-assist e-bikes on designated pathways and trail networks until October 2020.

Officials with Alberta Parks say e-bikes won’t be allowed at the Canmore Nordic Centre, or more wilderness setting trails such as the 80-km High Rockies Trail that winds through Bow Valley Wildland, Spray Valley and Peter Lougheed provincial parks as part of the pilot.

But, they say, e-bikes are permitted on several trails near Kananaskis Village, such as the 9.7-km paved Bill Milne Trail, 5.1-km Kovach Trail, 0.8-km Link connector and first four kilometres of Ribbon Creek, as well as 4.2-km paved trail through Bow Valley Provincial Park.

“The feedback we’ve received so far has been quite positive from both local retailers and rental outfits, as well as from members of the public,” said Michael Roycroft, the manager responsible for specialized facilities and trails for Alberta Parks in K-Country.

“We have chosen not to pilot e-bikes on some of the backcountry trails and more wilderness settings because we felt  ‘let’s take a baby step and see how that goes.’ Then we can determine whether or not we want to expand that into these trail in the future.”

Pedal-assist e-bikes are defined as non-throttled electric powered bicycles that provide up to 500 watts of continuous max output, which stops assisting when either pedaling stops or 32 km/h is reached.

Claude Faerden, owner and operator of Kananaskis Outfitters, said he worked with the former NDP government and local MLA to get the pilot moving forward, adding he has six rental e-bikes.

“They’ve been going out steadily many days more often than our other bikes, so the demand is absolutely there,” he said.

Families and larger groups seem to be the main customers for now.

“What I am finding by and large is that entire families and multiple generations of people are going out biking together because now the playing field’s been levelled.”

Faerden said he is happy with the trails that have been rolled out with the pilot, noting that restrictions on e-bikes, including that they be non-throttle, are a good move.

"These can’t be throttled assisted, so you can’t take out all dirt bikes with pedals on them that go 50 miles an hour. That’s exactly what I don’t want in Kananaskis,” he said.

“I think we have the ability to get ahead of that by putting some boundaries in place early, and if we wait too long, it’s harder to pull back.”

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) says most of the trails where e-bikes are allowed are within public recreation areas, a designation created specifically to manage recreation, so these are appropriate areas for the pilot to occur.

Becky Best-Bertwistle, conservation engagement coordinator for CPAWS, said there are many unknowns when it comes to the ecological effects of e-bike use; it is likely that impacts from e-bikes concern soil erosion, increased human-wildlife conflicts, and increased user conflicts.

“Pedal-assist e-biking can have a place in our provincial recreation areas, however we would like to emphasize that ecological values in our provincial parks, wildland provincial parks, and natural areas must be protected from more impactful forms of recreation,” she said.

“CPAWS hopes that Alberta Environment and Parks uses this pilot project to effectively collect information and make an informed decision.

“We are happy the government is accepting public input, and hope that they prioritize the environment in this matter and when making decisions regarding all of the province’s protected areas and wild spaces,” she said.

As part of the pilot project, e-bikes are also allowed on certain trails and pathways at Fish Creek Provincial Park, Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park and Wets Bragg Creek Provincial Recreation Area.

The Legacy trail east of Banff National Park now officially allows pedal assisted e-bikes. Once completed, the Legacy Trail extension to the Canmore Nordic Centre will also permit e-bikes.

Roycroft said Alberta Parks started with a limited number of trails to see how the public responds and if there is support or not.

He said they will be monitoring and evaluating the pilot through to October 2020 and encourage the public’s feedback through an online survey on the Alberta Parks website.

 “We’ll determine after the pilot whether or not we want to the e-bike roll out to other trails,” said Roycroft.

Meanwhile, there is currently a partial closure of the Bill Milne Trail due to bear activity between Mount Kidd RV Park and the southern access to Highway 40.