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Traveler's View: No Professional Bike Racing At Colorado National Monument


Is a bike race necessary to build upon the spectacular scenery and rich natural and cultural resources of Colorado National Monument to justify a name change to Colorado National Park? NPS photos.

If a professional bike race charging through Colorado National Monument is the key to the rugged red-rock landscape and its treasures in western Colorado being redesignated as a "national park," then it's time to end the discussion over a name change.

The contention by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper that running a stage of the 2012 Quiznos Pro Challenge through the monument "can significantly add to the stature and profile of the effort to designate the Monument as a National Park" is shortsighted and seemingly shows a failure to fully appreciate that which the monument preserves.

Within its 20,534 acres Colorado Monument offers visitors not just the soaring beauty of rock monoliths reaching into the sky and intriguing and fragile cryptobiotic soil crusts essential to life on the Colorado Plateau but also tombs of fossilized dinosaur remains and their footprints and puzzling traces of prehistoric cultures. All set against a colorful ruddy sandstone backdrop.

No doubt, it would be a dazzling backdrop for television cameras following more than 100 elite cyclists during one stage of their seven-day run through Colorado. But the impacts and disruptions it would have on the monument alone make it unsuitable. Superintendent Joan Anzelmo says the race would require the monument to be closed to the public for at least 12 hours during the monument's high summer season, and during the race aircraft would hover overhead the peloton while support vehicles and caravans carrying VIPs snake along Rim Rock Drive behind the racers.

While professional bike racing is exciting to watch, and the red-rock beauty of Colorado Monument a breathtaking postcard for not just Colorado but the entire National Park System, the two don't belong together. Yosemite National Park officials back in 2009 reached a similar conclusion when they declined a request to allow a professional bike race to weave through the Yosemite Valley.

Commercial activities that prevent use of the park by visitors have no place in NPS areas. To contend that such a race is necessary to heighten the prospects of redesignating Colorado Monument as a national park is terribly myopic and undervalues the wonders that exist there.

If generating more tourism dollars for the surrounding area is what really is driving Mr. Udall and Mr. Hickenlooper, a much more lasting and stronger driver would be the "national park" imprint, something Mr. Udall can advance through legislation that rightfully stands on the well-established merits of the monument.

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My family and I also had a horrible time visiting two Nat'l Parks. We planned a tour of Grand Teton & Yellowstone. Grand Teton was awful: an airport was cause for constant jet noise. No quiet meadow tours of bison calling and airy silence. Then, a road bike event was ongoing in Jackson. We now include planning our camping trips to be far away from any 'public place' that has been overrun by commercial uses.

Rick Smith's comment above is a nice summary of why the park made the right decision in denying this permit.

Let's hope heavy-handed politics don't trump a reasonable policy.

I just wanted to clarify that I looked more into the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, and found some more details on the course. I supposed previous versions did start from Alcatraz, but the 2011 course description mentions that they start from a boat adjacent to Alcatraz. However - the bicycle and run portions of the race do go through Golden Gate NRA areas, including Crissy Field and several of the former army batteries.

The race itself is run by a for-profit entity and there is some decent prize money.

This from a letter I wrote to the Grand Jct. paper about the bike race. It was addressed to the former editor of the paper who had written an editorial in favor of the race:

Dear Mr. Herzog:

I read your Sunday column in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel regarding the Quiznos pro bike race. I can sure appreciate your interest in promoting Colorado National Monument. However you have, if you will pardon the pun, chosen the wrong ‘vehicle’.

The National Park Service policies, adopted in 2006 after national public involvement and 45,000 public comments, clearly state that a special event may be permitted “when there is a meaningful association between the park area and the event” and “when the event will contribute to visitor understanding of the park area.” The Quiznos pro bike race fails both of these criteria. Moreover, Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations that governs what occurs in all areas of the National Park System requires that the Park Service deny permits for events that are “conducted primarily for the material or financial benefit of a for-profit entity; or awards participants an appearance fee or prizes of more than nominal value…”

When I read the Quiznos Pro Challenge tag line on their website “60 miles an hour on one inch of rubber”, it is apparent what the pro race is looking for – maximum speed and thrill. All understandable for a commercial professional mega sporting event that Quiznos is trying to host throughout Colorado. But it is not appropriate to take place in a national monument or a national park.

Superintendent Anzelmo is simply implementing regulations and policy in denying the permit for a stage of the race to take place in Colorado National Monument. She has graciously offered the Monument for a ceremonial lap by the racers without the attendant helicopters, small airplanes, and race support vehicles that are part of the pro-race. I hope the race organizers accept her offer. In your column you claim that you want to avoid controversy. This would be a good step in that direction.

Thank you.

Rick Smith

Matt Stubbs:
My remark was intended to the fact of showing up at a park and having it closed... That is it. Nothing like driving 6 hours to find six new plovers nested overnight successfully blocking the remaining access. This is why I bring my boat to Cape Hatteras now so I may bypass the NPS all together on my own little sandbar.

Again - your case is not the same. This case at Colorado NM is about effectively closing off all the vehicle entrance and exit routes into the park for anyone visiting for any purpose, whether it's the race or someone who attempts to visit without knowing about the race. If a beach is closed on short notice at Cape Hatteras, you'll at least have the opportunity to get out of there, and there will still be access to the visitor centers, lighthouse, and all paved roads leading in or out. I've certainly had to deal with closures before, whether it was a trail, a road, or a visitor center. The beach closures at Cape Hatteras are small potatoes compared to effectively locking in the visitor population at Colorado NM for 12 hours.

The park supt estimated that it might attract 30,000 to 50,000 spectators, which would be a lot considering the annual visitation is about 800,000. Even if most of those spectators were watching this stage outside of the park, it still sounds like a problem given limited parking, no shoulders along most of the park roads, no lodging, and no places to eat inside the park. Setting up tenporary sellers permits could get tricky.

Having been a cycling enthusiast (but not necessarily an avid race fan) I've seen some of what these races look like. There's probably a big crowd at the start and finish lines. For a race like this, I would expect there wouldn't be a huge crowd in the middle. The crowds tend to hang around towns with amenities and maybe big-screen video showing the race progress from cameras mounted on support vehicles and helicopters. I've seen pictures of these races going through mountains, and they typically include stark images of the pack riding through a barren landscape. I would expect that the start or finish would be in Grand Junction. However - I would have to see what the plan is. Again - this doesn't seem like a place that is built for a whole lot of visitation at one time. It could very well be like some of the nightmare traffic scenarios I've seen at stadium parking lots or maybe a major city after 4th of July fireworks. Or Yosemite Valley during peak season. ;)

My remark was intended to the fact of showing up at a park and having it closed... That is it. Nothing like driving 6 hours to find six new plovers nested overnight successfully blocking the remaining access. This is why I bring my boat to Cape Hatteras now so I may bypass the NPS all together on my own little sandbar.

The 2012 Quiznos Pro Challenge through the monument "can significantly add to the stature and profile OF THE EFFORT to designate the Monument as a National Park"--weird sentence. Does an "effort" really have stature and profile? Why not raise the "profile" of the monument by highlighting ITS "stature," which has nothing to do with a bike race.

For Anonymous (February 22, 2011 - 11:58am), I don't know if you'd necessarily get the same problems with a professional bike race. The NYC Marathon has about 50,000 participants, while a professional stage race has only 128 racers. They've got professional support vehicles and cleanup would be nowhere near as difficult as a major foot race.

You should see what happens every year at Badlands NP around the time of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Groups of loud motorcycles pass through for a visit on the way. I hear the NPS brings in law enforcement from other parks just in case.

As for designated walkways, off trail travel is actually legal at many NPS units unless it's posted otherwise. I had a ranger at Yellowstone who said they encourage dispersed off-trail travel except for geothermal areas where it can dangerous. However - the key is **dispersed** such that the effects aren't concentrated in certain popular visitor areas.

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