One Step Closer for E-Bikes on Two Epic Trails

One Step Closer for E-Bikes on Two Epic Trails

NWACC - Trail Tech

Arkansas boasts a crown jewel for mountain bikers – a network of trails designated as “Epic” by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA). These aren’t your average paths; they’re journeys into rugged remoteness, pushing riders to their limits and rewarding them with breathtaking scenery.

The western Ouachita Mountains are home to a trio of these Epic adventures. The Womble Trail throws down a gauntlet with steep, rocky climbs and narrow single-track hugging mountainsides. For those with a head for heights, the exhilarating descents are pure adrenaline.

LOViT (Lake Ouachita Vista Trail) carves a slightly different path, offering stunning vistas of the sparkling namesake lake. Still, prepare for a challenging ride with plenty of climbs, single-track sections and beautiful views of Lake Ouachita.

Rounding out the western Ouachita offerings is the Ouachita National Recreational Trail, the longest of the bunch. This epic journey winds for over 100 miles, taking riders through a diverse landscape of forests, streams, and scenic overlooks. A through-ride here is not for the faint of heart.

Head north to the Ozark Mountains for another taste of IMBA Epic. The Syllamo Trail promises a wild ride through hardwood forests. Technical sections test your skills, while smoother stretches offer opportunities to soak in the natural beauty.

Finally, the Upper Buffalo Headwaters Trail takes the cake for pure wilderness exploration. This remote gem traverses the headwaters of the Buffalo National River, offering encounters with cascading waterfalls, towering cliffs, and old-growth forests.

Except for LOViT, which ventures onto US Army Corps of Engineers land, all these Epic trails reside on lands managed by the US Forest Service.

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Will E-Bikes be welcome?

In March of 2022, the US Forest Service updated its guidelines to allow electric bikes (e-bikes) on certain mountain bike trails that were previously off-limits to motorized vehicles. The new guidelines define e-bikes as a type of motor vehicle and establish criteria for deciding which roads, trails, and areas can be used by e-bikes, even if they are not currently open to motor vehicles. The recent change permits specific forest service offices to decide whether to allow certain types of e-bikes on National Forest Service trails where regular bicycles are allowed, as long as the impact of e-bikes is similar to that of regular bicycles. The designation would be a process where, “The appropriate level of environmental analysis, including programmatic analyses, should be evaluated when considering whether to designate roads, trails, or areas for e-bike use.” These types of processes take time and are designed to allow all interested parties to weigh in on the decision.

In May of 2022, the Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis National Forests began the process by starting with three trail systems, The Womble, Syllamo, and the Upper Buffalo Headwaters. By August of 2022, The Ozark Society began pushing for the exclusion of the Upper Buffalo Headwaters Trail from the study. In October of 2023, it was announced that the Upper Buffalo was no longer in the study.

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Map of proposed e-bike friendly trails.
Map of proposed e-bike friendly trails.

So where are we now?

The Forest Service issued its Environmental Assessment assessment including Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact last month. The 63-page document covers all assessments made and has some detailed descriptions of e-bikes, their use, and comparison to traditional mountain bikes. (You can read it here)

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Starting on or around June 9th, the process will begin a 45-day objection period (details will be announced in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on or about June 9th). An expected final decision will be made in August 2024 and implementation will be on January 1, 2025.

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