The people who run the trail system around Rossland and Trail say they were blindsided by the provincial government’s new policy allowing electric bikes on some trails.
The manager of the Kootenay Columbia Trail Society says the new rules create a jurisdictional mess they will have to clean up over the coming months.
“The society wasn’t provided with any advance warning of the timing or the contents of the province’s new e-bike policy, so we’re responding as quickly as we’re able,” says Stewart Spooner, the trail manager for the society and a Rossland city councillor.
Right now electric bikes are not allowed on any of the 157 kilometres of trails that have been built in the last decade, and that policy remains.
While the new provincial policy allows the bikes on property owned by the public, only part of the society’s trails are on public land.
Spooner says that creates massive headaches for their organization.
“It’s complicated because we need to consider the perspectives of the 47 different landowners on whose land we manage trails, because we need to ensure all the activities on our trails are covered by our liability insurance (which specifies non-motorized use),” he says. “[A]nd because allowing e-bikes will create all sorts of practical trail management issues (acknowledged in the provincial policy) that are challenging to anticipate, let alone address.”
“We don’t have signs in the forest saying you are crossing from this person’s land to that person’s land,” says Spooner. “When the province comes out and says e-bikes are allowed, we suddenly have to adapt somehow.”
Right now the society’s policy banning electric bikes remains in place, but Spooner acknowledges it may be difficult to enforce.
“They’ve left the impression out there in the community and are effectively encouraging people to go out and purchase e-bikes and expect to use them, regardless of the rules or expectations we might have… We’re going to have people out there in good faith, the province has told them it’s okay now, and there they go.”
The province announced last week it was opening up 600 trails managed by Recreation Sites and Trails BC to electric bikes.
The rules don’t apply to trails managed by BC Parks or vacant provincial public land, local governments or trails on private land. Electric bikes may be still restricted outside of this policy under regulations or local bylaws.
But managers of those trails say in practicality, the introduction of e-bikes creates enormous unknowns for them.
“We have concerns about all sorts of things, it’s really just a bit unknown,” Spooner says, noting there are good things about the policy, like how e-bikes will allow people with disabilities more mobility options. But then there are the negatives, like hackers tampering with e-bikes to make them faster and more powerful.
“We’ve developed ways of managing our trails around the existing technology, but now you add a motor to the equation and the potential to override all the limits and have a motorized trail networks, and we’re scratching our heads on how we deal with this.”
Spooner says the province has dropped a headache on local community recreation groups.
“The unfortunate effect of this new provincial policy is to download a variety of complicated management challenges onto community groups, without providing any additional resources,” he says. “Under these difficult circumstances our existing prohibition on e-bikes on society trails remains in effect, at least until we’re able to complete a thorough review.”
Spooner says the writing seems to be on the wall, however, and the society will have to change its policies to adapt to the new reality.
You may also want to check twice before you bring your new electric bike on one of the most popular riding trails in the region, the Slocan Valley Rail Trail.
While the group that manages the 60-kilometre trail now allows Type 1 electric bikes, it has to review its policy given the new provincial rules.
“We are a non-motorized trial, but we have accepted the first type, Type 1, which is just a motor-assisted bike. That has been no problem,” says Helene Dostaler, chair of the Slocan Valley Heritage Trail Society, which manages the trail. She says with the province allowing the more powerful throttled e-bikes, a review has to be done.
“Now the discussion has to happen, and we want it to happen at the board level, with our members and the outside community. We have to discuss whether we are going to accept Type 2s and 3s.”
Dostaler says extensive polling has shown people support the trail for non-motorized use only. And while they may not be able to stop every person on the trails with a motorized bike, public vigilance can help keep them off of it.