Segways in the National Parks: Do We Really Need Them?

Two Segway entrepreneurs have their sights on Yosemite and Sequoia national parks as the next frontier for these two-wheeled contraptions. Steve Steinberg and Darren Romar, who operate Segway of Oakland, want to offer fleets of these "human transporters" to the two parks.

"We want to expand rental operations into the U.S. National Park Service, and we're ready to take on bigger things like Yosemite," Mr. Steinberg said in a PR release. "Our goal is to work out partnerships where we supply Segway units to start your own turnkey operation, and support for when you are running the operation. We are already looking into a partnership with a concessionaire and we are excited about the Parks. We can only take on so many locations, but right now we're looking for good partnerships"

Of course, the rhetorical question is whether Yosemite and Sequoia and other national parks need Segways tooling around their roads? Another question is why the National Park Service would want to invite Segways into the parks?

It wasn't too long ago that former NPS Director Fran Mainella was touting the healthy benefits of recreation in the parks. It was back in June of 2006 when Ms. Mainella talked about the Park Service's efforts to "advance the physical and mental health of the American public by encouraging additional, appropriate physical activity during visits to national park units."

Riding a Segway around a park doesn't exactly seem terribly physical.

Beyond that, can anyone demonstrate a need to do away with the traditional ranger-led tour of a park? Or are we to assume that rangers will continue to lead tours, but only involving herds of Segwayians? Of course, the savvy Segway fleet owner could equip his units with "electronic rangers" and do away with the living and breathing ranger entirely.

Seriously, though, do we really need to add to the congestion that already exists in Yosemite Valley, where cars, hikers, joggers, cyclists and regular pedestrians already eat up most of the available ground space? Should the Park Service be advocating against walking and hiking? Should the agency be encouraging younger generations to avoid using their feet to explore the parks?

In their drive to "take on" the national parks, will Messieurs Steinberg and Romar lobby to see that Segways gain access to paved trails? And if that's accomplished, will they then outfit Segways with more rugged, knobby tires to conquer hiking trails?

Perhaps there are places in the national park system where Segways make sense, but I hope the Park Service doesn't believe Yosemite, Sequoia, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and the other 54 "national parks" are among them.


Again - the question at hand is whether or not the NPS is going to issue commercial use permits to Segway-based tour operators. We're not talking about one or two mobility-impaired Segway operators on their own, but large groups of people (most who can likely walk well enough on their own) riding these things on organized tours. I understand that there are heartfelt sentiments about how Segways have aided those with difficulties walking, but that's irrelevant to the question at hand. I would imagine that the NPS or individual park superintendents could allow the use of Segways by those with documented mobility problems, but not give a commercial tour operator permission to use them as part of a concession.

I live close to San Francisco and have seen a lot of these kinds of tour activities. This seems more to me like an organized sideshow like those go-kart style electric cars where the driver and passenger are wearing helmets.

I'm planning a Yosemite trip with my family. My parents are getting up there in age and my mom has gout. For her, walking long distances really does hurt. A lot. Imagine wanting to exercise, but feeling pins and needles on your knees every time you step down. It's not necessarily fat and lazy people who will use these devices. Think of people who have: gout, a limp, on crutches, anemic, or any other condition.
PS: For those of you who think we should get a segway for her, it's not like we do these trips often enough so that buying one is practical. Plus flying/shipping it may not be feasable as well.