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Guest Column: Chipping Away At The National Park Service Mission One Park At A Time
Editor's note: Joan Anzelmo had a long and distinquished career with the National Park Service, one that included tenure as superintendent of Colorado National Monument. Among the issues she had to grapple with during her stint at the monument was whether to allow a professional bike race to pass through the monument. She declined the request for reasons outlined in the National Park Service's Management Policies. When the Park Service's Intermountain Region last week announced that it would take a new approach to deciding what activities were appropriate in Colorado National Monument, she was understandably puzzled because of how it could affect the bike race. She explains why in the following guest column.
Beginning in December 2010, and most recently on August 14, 2012, the National Park Service has repeatedly told the Grand Junction Local Organizing Committee (GJLOC) for the USA Pro Challenge that it cannot utilize Colorado National Monument and its Rim Rock Drive, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, for a stage of the USA Pro Challenge bike race.
So you can imagine my surprise when on Friday, November 9, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, whose publisher is on the GJLOC, ran an exclusive story about a process the Park Service would implement when considering appropriate activities in the monument, including a reconsideration of the professional bike race. The article included quotes from Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper, GJLOC member John Hopkins, NPS Intermountain Regional Director John Wessels, and monument Superintendent Lisa Eckert.
Public to get a say on monument
Feds seek local input on activities inside the park
The local organizing committee that sought to conduct a leg of the USA Pro Challenge bicycle race along the 23 miles of Rim Rock Drive saw the Park Service announcement as an opening.
“It’s a good opportunity to more fully explore how we might make available the type of event we’ve been talking about,” said John Hopkins, chairman of the local organizing committee, calling it a “very positive development” for the community in general.
Gov. John Hickenlooper called the announcement a step in the right direction that will “ensure that the public has input when it comes to protecting and enjoying this national crown jewel. We appreciate the National Park Service’s interest in having an open and honest dialogue with the community about activities in the monument.”
Later that same day, the Park Service issued a news release that announced a process to begin in January that would look at all manner of activities, events, and commercial services to decide which would be appropriate for the monument. The subsequent news stories and editorials said the Park Service would invite the community to help the agency determine what should be permitted and what should not, whether weddings, family reunions, special events, rock climbing, and even the professional bike race. That's a rather unnecessary and pricey process to my way of thinking when specific regulations and policy already exist to evaluate and determine what is appropriate or not.
Are you scratching your head yet? I certainly have been.
The Bike Race Has Been Reviewed Before
The National Park Service went through a massive and expensive national public involvement process in 2005 and 2006 to update its Management Policies, the guiding field manual for how to manage the parks. The result of that long and costly process was the updated 2006 Management Policies that give greater weight to resource protection, even over visitor services.
These policies flow from the NPS Organic Act. Consequently, Park Service superintendents are specifically directed to follow these policies and to protect park resources first and foremost. Complementing the 2006 NPS Management Policies are the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and other agency directives and guidelines.
When I served as superintendent at Colorado National Monument and in other posts ranging from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks to the Director’s Office in Washington, D.C., I always followed Park Service policy to guide my decisions and all of my public communications. No more so than when I evaluated the first proposal from the GJLOC requesting to hold a stage of the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado National Monument.
The policies and Code of Federal Regulations were clear on how I would evaluate and decide this request. However, I made sure to consult with my supervisor, Regional Director John Wessels, various Interior Department solicitors, fellow Park Service superintendents, staff in the agency's Office of Policy as well as the special permits staff, and eventually with Park Service Director Jon Jarvis.
Despite the nasty assault I received in the community and the non-stop intense political pressure from Gov. Hickenlooper and many elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, to force the race, it was reassuring and Park Service mission-affirming to have both Regional Director Wessels and Director Jarvis emphatically support the decision I made not to permit the stage of the USA Pro Challenge inside of Colorado National Monument.
It was reaffirmed on several additional occasions while I was still at Colorado National Monument and after I retired. Most recently, on August 14, 2012, Regional Director Wessels in a letter to the GJLOC informed them that the Park Service would not permit the professional bike race in Colorado National Monument. This was the third time that Regional Director Wessels informed the GJLOC why the Park Service would not permit the pro bike race. Subsequently, members of the GJLOC confirmed to the news media an additional meeting with RD Wessels and Secretary Salazar during September on the subject of the race.
Surprising Change Of Heart?
So Friday’s news as reported initially by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and later by the Denver Post, and stories in Greenwire, as well as editorials in both the Daily Sentinel and the Denver Post were shocking. Again elected officials were quoted as praising the Park Service for its new decision-making process regarding the pro bike race with headlines stating “Monumental Change of Heart” and “NPS Change of Policy.”
Adding to the chorus of those stating the Park Service would re-evaluate the pro bike race was the Intermountain Region’s spokesperson and associate regional director, Rick Frost. In a Greenwire story on Tuesday, November 13, Mr. Frost was quoted as saying:
"I think people are making too much of the race itself," said Rick Frost, associate regional director of communications for NPS's Intermountain Region in Denver. "Nothing about what we're doing here represents a policy change. This is an effort to engage the public, and to help them understand the process by which special-use permits are granted. We want to work with them to help them understand the things we can and cannot do and to show them where there's flexibility to do things and where there's not." However, Frost said all special-use activities will be up for discussion, including ongoing proposals to run a segment of the bike race through part of the monument.
Perhaps if Rick Frost had faced the unrelenting pressures I faced daily as park superintendent, including personal threats and attempts to get me fired during the protracted race debate, he would never say, “I think people are making too much of the race itself” or so badly confound the NPS message on its policy which expressly prohibits professional sporting events inside the nation’s national parks and monuments.
I remain hopeful that Director Jarvis, who has faithfully carried out the National Park Service mission throughout every step of his field-oriented career, will make the Park Service position crystal clear on this issue for Colorado National Monument and for all other units of the National Park System as a tangible manifestation of the agency’s Call to Action."