First round of comments received in TAJR e-bike proposal

Times Observer file photo A rider climbs a hill at the Trails at Jakes Rocks. An environmental assessment has been released examining a proposal to permit class-1 e-bikes on the trail system.

An environmental assessment prepared by the U.S. Forest Service details the first round of public comment received on a proposal to permit class-1 e-bikes on the Trails at Jakes Rocks.

The assessment was released late Friday.

“E-bikes provide the opportunity for riders of all abilities to travel longer distances and access and enjoy more remote parts of the forest,” the document states. “The addition of Class 1 e-bikes to the Jakes Rocks trail system will increase trail traffic in certain areas while also spreading usage more evenly across the entire trail system.”

E-bikes are bicycles augmented with motors that provide varying levels of pedal assist.

Class 1 e-bikes, according to the Forest Service, “provide assistance only when the rider pedals.” The assistance stops when the bike reaches 20 miles per hour.

“This emerging technology makes mountain biking more accessible and enjoyable to users with different levels of experience, skill, and physical ability,” the document states.

A March 2022 change in federal policy allowed the consideration of requests like this.

“In response to this policy change, the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry, Warren Cycle Shop, Northern Allegheny Mountain Bike Association, Loud Performance Products, and the Western New York Mountain Bike Association asked us to reconsider e-bike prohibitions on the Allegheny National Forest,” the assessment states. “Specifically, they requested the ability to use class 1 e-bikes on gated National Forest System roads, the trails at Jakes Rocks, Kinzua Connector, and the Morrison trail system.”

The proposal currently in review would be limited to the Trails at Jakes Rocks.

“Many community members voiced support for e-bikes at Jakes Rocks citing their desire to have the trails be more accessible to a wider audience,” the assessment states. “Hiking is the second highest use of the Jakes Rock trails after traditional mountain biking. Based on feedback from district staff, currently, there are few, if any, reports of conflict between hikers and mountain biker.”

There was also an acknowledgment that some people illegally use e-bikes on the TAJR system currently.

“Many comments from traditional mountain bikers during our scoping period were supportive of e-bike use at Jake Rocks, with only a couple comments opposing the use of e-bikes on the trails due to user conflict,” according to the ANF. “Allegheny National Forest recognizes that the growing demand for Class 1 e-biking opportunities requires carefully considered management decision-making to meet our responsibility to provide opportunities for recreation on multiple use public lands.

“The US Forest Service will monitor visitor use before and after implementation to better understand frequency and concentration of use at the Jakes Rocks Trails System. Increased signage and education by the Forest Service and event holders would also be planned for project implementation.”

The rest of the document is dedicated to detailing — and responding to — the 36 comment letters that were received as part of the initial scoping period.

The first two areas of comments focused on general argument both in support — and in opposition to — the proposal.

Comments both cited no expected erosion issues as well as the capacity for technology enhancements with e-bikes that “probably ‘chew’ up the trails quicker causing more erosion.”

Federal officials responded to that concern by saying they will “continue to work closely with our committed trail maintenance partners to ensure monitoring and regular maintenance occurs to minimize impacts. If necessary, the Forest Service can and will close sections of trail if erosion becomes a concern.”

Accessibility came up frequently in the comments, with one noting that e-bikes can allow more riders to ride “multiple trails, greater distances and more difficult trails.” One rider commented that cancer treatment caused a significant loss of muscle tissue and that an e-bike “is the only way I can continue to enjoy the mountain bike trail system.”

Other commenters included those with knee issues and one that had a heart attack.

Some commenters took it even further — arguing that not being able to use class 2 and class 3 e-bikes is discriminatory against older and disabled individuals while others claimed it would be a slipper slope — “If you are going to give into a special interest group you might as well give to everyone and open to gas powered motocross bikes.”

The last broad category of comments focused on health and safety.

“I think that most people who use e-bikes tend to be novice riders. Some of the trails require a fair bit of skill to negotiate,” one wrote. “I have no issue with Class 1 e-bikes being allowed on all the trails, but it should be conveyed clearly what trails are most appropriate.”

Someone else said that e-bikes “afford riders the energy to wear more heavy duty safety gear, and pack more water and food. Ebikes allow riders to choose how hard they exert themselves out on the trails, and provides a safety net from exhaustion where accidents or medical emergencies become a great risk.”

“The Jake’s Rock trail system was designed and built with the most up to date methods in sustainable mountain biking trail construction,” federal officials state. “These include winding trails and speed barriers to support reasonable speed and safety on the trail system. Conventional cyclists and e-bikers will need to continue to navigate these natural barriers and the varied terrain scattered throughout the project area.”

District Ranger Rich Hatfield told the Times Observer last month that the assessment would kick off another round of public comment.

“After the 30-day comment period (est. mid-June to mid-July), we would take a couple weeks to review comment on the analysis and then put the ‘draft’ decision out,” Hatfield explained.

A 45-day objection period would follow “because we have received comment and interest on the proposal,” he added, explaining that officials would need to “resolve” any objections before a final decision could be released.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today