Is the National Park Service Wise to Be Promoting The Use of Segways?

Should the National Park Service be promoting Segway tours of an early 19th Century cotton plantation? NPS photo of the Kingsley Plantation.

In a unit of the National Park System that preserves one of the "last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast" along with 6,000 years of human history, should the National Park Service be promoting the use of Segways to explore the park?

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, which is located near Jacksonville, Florida, also is associated with the Fort Caroline National Memorial that marks a 16th-century French outpost in the "new world."

Among the historic sites within Timucuan is the Kingsley Plantation, where you'll find the oldest plantation house still standing in Florida, one that dates to the early 19th Century. While you can easily visit the plantation, there's no need to walk around it. You can sign up for a Segway tour that includes a stop at the plantation, a tour you can find promoted on Timucuan's website.

Follow the link to "Ecomotion Tours" and you'll read that Segways allow "people to see more of the park in less time, with very little exertion - a welcomed option during the hot and humid months!"

Evolving Segway models are not limited only to pavement, either. Ecomotion Tours point out that they utilize "Segway XT cross-terrain model optimized for varied terrain and rugged environments." The prospects of where these two-wheelers might go make the debate over mountain bikes on hiking trails passe.

Which spurs these questions:

* Should the NPS, which likes to promote healthy, active recreation, be promoting a company that is promoting "very little exertion"?

* Are Segways compatible with national parks? While they might work well on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., what about in places such as Arches National Park, Acadia National Park, Everglades National Park, Grand Canyon National Park and on and on?

* What about user conflicts? Will those who prefer to walk around national parks be forced off pathways by Segway users? Can the NPS permit wider and less-restricted use of Segways and still adequately protect the resources AND visitor recreational quality?

* Will allowing the wider use of Segways open the door to even more intrusive technologies across the National Park System?

On the other hand, Segways also allow some folks who have disabilities that limit their ability to walk to see more of a park than perhaps they normally would.

What do you think?

Comments

Who says segways work well on the mall in D.C.????? I spend a great deal of time in D.C. and I see segways run over people on the mall all the time! I see the riders of segways fall off a LOT. I see segways run women with baby strollers, the elderly, and even occasionally ME off the sidewalk on every single trip. The riders go way too fast, in crowds, and either don't know how to control them or just don't care. I can go on and on about how segways are NOT safe for the people they run over or the people riding them who face plant into the street.
Having said that, I don't think segways are going away. Not until a multi-million dollar lawsuit grounds them, and that could take a while. So, my advice, based on hundreds of hours of experience observing, avoiding, operating, and being run over by segways:
1. If you have segways, you need to make a SEGWAY ONLY path, with no walkers, bikers, and absolutely no kids or strollers, and make it a one directional loop path with a railing system to keep the segway on the path.
2. Figure out how to slow the segway down to a reasonable speed where the injury risk for all persons involved is lowered.
3. Make sure that tour guide takes them out and brings them back in.

National Parks are meant to be enjoyed in a way that will not diminish their appeal, history or physical characteristics. Any kind of vehicle is a threat to all three, never mind the personal dangers noted by Marylander earlier today.

Add the possibility of people using them off-trail and you quickly have a very bad idea. No Segways in National Parks!

Segway usage in National Parks should be limited to people with mobility issues and they should require a permit. A ranger would issue the FREE permit after the Seqway user demostrates safe operation. Maybe a written test too.

While I'm not advocating the use of Segways in National Parks, I don't understand the prior comment that parks should only be enjoyed in a way that "will not diminish their appeal, history or physical characteristics". How does/would such use be affected? I agree that off-trail use could have severe negative impact on things like trail systems, wildlife habitats, erosion, etc., and should be prohibited. I also agree that under some circumstances, irresponsible use of a Segway could put other individuals in harm's way. But I can't see that such a vehicle could cause any more impact than a motorized (or non-motorized) wheelchair, and we don't prohibit those, do we?

"Should the NPS, which likes to promote healthy, active recreation, be promoting a company that is promoting "very little exertion"?"

The NPS is not a tool for social engineering. If and when the NPS promotes "healthy, active recreation" to the point of restricting Americans' liberties, then the NPS has gone far beyond its mandate. This is not a comment on the suitability of Segways, per se, but on the idea that a desire to promote "healthy, active recreation" is in any way relevant. We have no business restricting a particular vehicle on the grounds that we would prefer their users were getting more exercise.

Virginian, you're not not going to gain many adherents for an argument that starts with the proposition that any and all vehicles are a threat to every kind of national park. It's a long walk from Fresno to Kings Canyon...

Dan, the NPS would not be overstepping its mandates, or infringing on anyone's liberties, by saying Segways are fine rides outside the National Park System.

And in light of the agency's past stance on healthy outdoor education -- back in 2006 then-Director Fran Mainella reported on efforts the Park Service was taking to "advance the physical and mental health of the American public by encouraging additional, appropriate physical activity during visits to national park units" -- I don't see the problem with 1) banning Segways from the parks if their role is to reduce one's exertion level while speeding the riders through the park of their choice, or 2) banning individual park units from providing links to such activities, a de facto marketing endorsement.

New Jerseyan: Segways can travel at speeds up to 5 mph, which is a bit more than your average wheelchair, motorized or not. There's also the issue of the impact these make when they're traveling in groups.

Objectively...

In the hot & humid Southeast U.S., which will include the Timucuan Preserve near Jacksonville, Florida, there is a long-established military protocol designed to limit & control exertion in accordance with weather conditions. Even hardcore Marine bootcamp observes a graduated series of restrictions on exertion.

So in terms specifically of the Deep South - yes, there is a solid body of medical practice and institutional precedent for minimizing exertion in the sweltering heat. If that's their 'cover story', they're covered.

To take Segways to Yosemite, they'll need a different cover story.

Subjectively...

1.) Should the Parks promote lifestyle modes? Ans.: [ No. ]

2.) Are Segways compatible with Parks? Ans.: Very limited. They have a short range, fragile surface-competence, and on steep terrain will occasionally pitch riders over the precipice (so can't be used for liability reasons).

3.) User conflicts? Ans.: Minimal. In popular places, pedestrians will greatly outnumber Segways. In unpopular places the machines can't make enough money.

4.) Are they (intended as) the thin edge of the wedge? Ans.: Absolutely. I will have my gasoline powered version passed by CARB.

Commentary...

The Segway is competent to trundle people around a short tour of no-terrain Timucuan, but it is not economically competent. It's a business failure, and has been since Day One. That's why we see these torturous exercises to ingratiate it with new venues.

While it's intended to serve as a wedge to open the door for other gadgets ... every other gadget under the sun has already been tried ... and defenses found, limits put in place. Jet boats were jacked back, or banned. Snowmobiles are regulated into obsequitousness. "Motorized Vehicles" is an 18-letter sneer.

They can wedge all they want, but kids (of any age) still aren't going to dirt-bike down into Grand Canyon.