Yosemite National Park Says "No Thanks" to Major Cycling Race

One leg of the 2008 Amgen race.

One leg of the 2008 Amgen bike race in Morro Bay, CA. How would a similar event affect traffic on Yosemite roads? mike baird via Creative Commons.

The route for the 2010 Amgen Tour of California, a major, Tour de France-style cycling road race has been announced, and while some cycling fans may be disappointed, other visitors to Yosemite National Park next May can breathe a sigh of relief. Roads in Yosemite National Park will not be included in the route.

Preliminary suggestions by event organizers reportedly included at least two proposals for use of roads in the park. The first used a route into the park on Highway 140, thru Yosemite Valley and out of the park via Highway 41 through Wawona; a second was based on a “preride,” which began at Curry Village, passed through Yosemite Valley and exited the park on Highway 140 at the Arch Rock entrance station before the actual race got underway.

Should the park staff have concerns about either idea? Here's a little background:

Organizers of the event describe it as "the largest cycling event in America …a professional cycling road race that challenges the world’s top professional cycling teams to compete along a demanding course…" Does the name Lance Armstrong ring a bell?

This is not just a fun event put together by local organizations, it's a very big business. According to the Amgen website, the race is "presented by AEG,

one of the leading sports and entertainment presenters in the world. AEG, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Anschutz Company, owns or controls a collection of companies including facilities such as STAPLES Center, The Home Depot Center, Sprint Center, The O2, NOKIA Theatre L.A. LIVE and NOKIA Theatre Times Square; sports franchises including the Los Angeles Kings (NHL), two Major League Soccer franchises, two hockey franchises operated in Europe…[and more]."

Towns large and small vie for a spot on the eight-day race route. The draw is the potential economic benefit of large crowds of both race participants and spectators and their spending on hotel rooms, restaurants, campsites and other local businesses. According to the Amgen website,

Beginning with the inaugural year in 2006, the Amgen Tour of California quickly became the most successful race in the United States with regards to economic benefits to the state, global recognition and the level of competition. The race also continues to set records in attendance for a single sporting event in the state of California, as well as any cycling event ever held on U.S. soil, with an estimated 2 million spectators in 2009.

A factor in park official's decision against the race was the congestion it would have created in the park. Jim Hammett, the acting deputy superintendent when the decision was rendered back in June, said “the disruption would probably have been for the better part of one day.”

With the race proposed to be conducted in the middle of May, a month when Yosemite is awash in visitors anxious to see the park’s waterfalls at or near their peak fury cascading into the Yosemite Valley, blocking traffic for that much time to allow for a bike race would have greatly impacted visitors who perhaps were making their one and only visit to the park, said Mr. Hammett.

Mr. Hammett also noted there also were concerns about the amount of advertising that would have flooded into the valley floor via race support vehicles. “We just wanted to make sure that we were not doing something that was unprecedented or that would set precedence in a negative way."

Another factor wasn't mentioned by the park, but it's a significant one for park visitors: the impacts of the race on traffic coming to and from the park on those same highways would not have ended at the park boundary. The potential for delays of normal visitor travel throughout a larger area were significant, and there just aren't many ways in and out of the popular park.

NPS policy has discouraged competitive sporting events in parks, with a key benchmark being whether the event would interfere with the ability of visitors to enjoy the fundamental reason for the park's existence, or whether there's a risk of damage of park resources.

It seems to be a clear call in this case, but declining to approve such events can sometimes be politically challenging for park officials at both local and higher levels, especially when nearby communities are anxious to cash in on the dollars involved.

The 2010 Amgen Tour of California figures to be an exciting event, and a fine one for many locations in the state. Yosemite wasn't one of them, and politics, economics and fans of Lance Armstrong and cycling notwithstanding, the NPS made the right call on this one.

Comments

Much as I enjoy the Tour, I was an avid spectator when it came to San Diego last year, I do not think any public park known for its beauty and serenity should be subject to the number of fans and amount of disruption this type of event brings. There are many other options, thousands of other beautiful and challenging places to ride in California, none of which would be disrupted by the Tour going through.

It was the right decision. I am an avid cyclist and have ridden in several national parks. Cycling on roads and designated bike trails is a great way to see and enjoy the parks, but the type of event described would be inappropriate in most park settings.

Years ago the story went around about the Park Superintendent in Alaska who had agreed to a sled dog race through his park.

With the park staff in open revolt over what they considered an inacceptible conflict with the purpose of the park, the Superintendent defended himself by saying: but look at the law ! Sled dogs are allowed in this national park !

"Yes," the park staff snapped back, "and horses are allowed in National Parks in the lower 48. BUT they don't allow HORSE RACES !!"

Hmm. Sounds vaguely familiar.

There is a professional boat race every summer day in Grand Canyon National Park. The winner gets the best camp downriver, and the winner usually has a motor.

I wonder to what extent organized sporting events are permitted in other national parks?

Crater Lake has a Rim Run. I believe marathons have been held in other parks as well. Which have held, or allow through travel for, bicycle races?

Personally, I'd rather see parks managed for the enjoyment of the preserved natural and cultural resources than used as stage settings for organized sporting events. There will always be a conflict, however, between managing parks as sanctuaries and promoting them as economic engines to support the local tourist industry and organized recreation.

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Death Valley Borax Marathon:
http://www.envirosports.com/events/event.php?eventid=2409

Badwater Ultramarathon:
http://www.badwater.com
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badwater_Ultramarathon

Death Valley 49ers Wheelbarow Race:
http://www.deathvalley49ers.org/wheelbarrow_race.html

These are really any sort of competetive event where they shut down the roads.

Mount Rainier has the annual RAMROD bike circuit, normally sixty miles within the park with no vehicle closure:
http://www.redmondcyclingclub.org/RAMROD/RAMROD_course_information.html#Rider_Support