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E-Bike Boom Causes Headaches for Park City and Summit County Trail Managers

Leslie Thatcher

The explosion of e-bikes’ popularity in recent years has sparked discussion among local trail managers: Do e-bikes belong on trails?


Just a handful of years ago, e-bikes were an uncommon sight around Park City. Today, a combination of better technology and the COVID-19 pandemic encouraging people to recreate outdoors has led to a dramatic rise in their use.


In Park City, e-bikes are only allowed on trails wider than five feet. In Summit County, they are only allowed on paved and gravel trails. Both ban the use of e-bikes on single track trails.


However, in Park City, there is an exception to that rule.


People who are over 65 or have a mobility disability can ride e-bikes on trails within city limits. After complaints of e-bikes and trail confrontations increased, Park City implemented a courtesy tag system last year for those people to show other trail users that they qualify to use e-bikes even on single track trails.


To date, the city has issued 149 tags. 


Heinrich Deters is the Park City Trails and Open Space Manager and said his department has seen an avalanche of requests for tags over the last year. The city is currently working on its application process.


“We’re trying to handle the actual onslaught of requests and applications,” he said. “First and foremost, it’s a resource discussion issue, and then there’s an evaluation -- I think that we are evaluating the program because we’re having so much interest in it.”


Deters said it takes time to process requests, weeding out anyone who could be trying to abuse the program.


Over in Summit County, Matt Wagoner is the Trails and Open Space Manager for Basin Recreation and said they are experiencing many of the same problems Park City is -- more e-bikes means more potential for conflict with other trail users.  


Wagoner said the Summit County Council did explore changing its e-bike policy several years ago, but ultimately decided enforcement would be too difficult. He added given how much overlap there is between the Park City and Basin Recreation trail systems, disparity in policies only makes enforcement harder.


“One of the great things about our trail system is how interconnected it is, so any inconsistency in regulation makes enforcement really, really difficult,” said Wagoner. “I think a critical piece of the puzzle is just having enforcement staff and it’s always going to be a challenge to enforce, but it’s really hard to create more regulations for a trail system like restrictions on e-bikes without having the capacity to enforce it.”


Deters said various public surveys have not shown broad support for e-bikes on the city’s trails, but did back up Park City’s approach.


“You know, we’ve done a couple surveys, Mountain Trails has done surveys, Basin Rec have done surveys asking the community numerous times what are their feelings of e-bikes on single track trails,” Deters said. “What we’re heard back pretty consistently is, ‘nope, we don’t want to open it up to everybody, but these parameters, an age parameter and a disability parameter is a pragmatic approach.’”


More information on Park City’s e-bike policy can be found here.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.
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