In a recent guest column about riding electric bikes (e-bikes) in the forests west of Bend, there were some inaccuracies that the Central Oregon Trail Alliance's Board of Directors would like to correct and clarify.
COTA’s mission is to develop, protect and enhance the Central Oregon mountain bike experience through trail stewardship, advocacy, collaboration and education. Since our founding in 1992, we have designed, built and have stewardship/maintenance agreements on hundreds of miles of single-track trails. While intended to be used primarily by mountain bikers, many others enjoy the work COTA has performed over the past 25+ years, including hikers, trail runners and equestrians.
COTA works with many land managing agencies, such the US Forest Service (Deschutes, Ochoco and Willamette National Forests), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bend Parks and Recreation, Redmond Parks and Recreation, City of Madras, City of Prineville, Crook County and a few others. In each of these relationships, trail management policies (including usage restrictions) are dictated by the specific land managers.
For instance, COTA has, in fact, built trails open to e-mountain bikes at the East Hills Trail System in Madras, because the City of Madras allowed it.
Regarding the Phil’s network and trails west of Bend, the land manager is USFS/Deschutes National Forest. The USFS’s national policy states that electric bikes are to be considered motorized vehicles, and therefore manages them differently than human-powered mountain bikes. Thus, e-bikes are not allowed on USFS trails managed for non-motorized use.
A different example can be seen in the Oakridge area, where some of the single-track trails allow e-bikes. Here these trails are managed by the Willamette National Forest as motorized trails and are open to motorcycles.
COTA’s role has always been as a supportive organization, holding volunteer agreements with the various land managers, including the local Forest Service office. We follow the rules and regulations put forth by the USFS.
The Deschutes National Forest Trail Manager asked COTA for assistance in funding and implementing a ‘No E-Bikes’ signage program. We provided funding and volunteer labor to install the signs, which were approved by DNF. This is consistent with our mission, since education and collaboration are part of what we do.
Although the USFS is not currently reviewing its e-bikes policy, the BLM is actively in a review process. Comments or concerns regarding e-bike use on BLM lands can be submitted through June 9 (search ‘e-bike regulations’ at blm.gov).
E-bike management on trails is very complex and we applaud the BLM for a full review and public comment period before making a final decision. This decision will also affect other trail users: hikers, trail runners, equestrians, and human-powered mountain bikers. While there are compelling arguments for inclusion of e-bikes on trails open to mountain bikes, there are also many arguments against inclusion and keeping non-motorized trails just that, non-motorized.
While the current policies prohibit e-bikes on non-motorized trails they do not prevent use and enjoyment of public lands. There are literally thousands of miles of unpaved roads and trails approved for motorized recreation, which includes e-bikes.
COTA promotes good trail etiquette and responsible recreation for all users. For e-bikers, a big part of riding responsibly includes knowing where to legally ride and respecting those policies. Ignoring closures and policies does not help the impression others have of e-bikers as a user group.