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Traveler's View: National Park Service Is Sending Conflicting Messages Concerning Bike Race At Colorado National Monument


The Park Service needs to reiterate that Colorado National Monument will not be a backdrop for a professional bike race. NPS photo.

Sadly, in less than four months the National Park Service seemingly has reversed itself and cracked open the door to a professional bicycle race climbing through Colorado National Monument.

Back in mid-August the Intermountain Region's director, John Wessels, appeared to lock the door against that possibility, saying the event "conflicts with federal regulations and agency management policies."

And yet, earlier this month the Intermountain Region announced it would take a new approach to deciding what activities are appropriate within the boundaries of the red-rock monument in western Colorado. The Park Service didn't unequivocally roll out the welcome map to the 2013 USA Pro Challenge, but that appears to have been the message the Grand Junction race supporters received. Last week they announced they would bid for a stage of next year's race, and raised the prospect of a route through the monument.

Park Service officials clearly erred in handling this issue, and should go back and reread not only Mr. Wessels' August letter, but also the opinion that Park Service Director Jon Jarvis voiced in March 2011 when he supported then-Superintendent Joan Anzelmo's decision to prohibit a stage of the race from riding through the monument.

“Closing the park to accommodate the needs of a commercial bike race goes against our management policies, would adversely impact park resources, and would deny access to the park to other visitors,” Director Jarvis said at the time. “Federal law and NPS policy restrict commercial activities in national parks to those that are ‘necessary and appropriate’ to park purposes. This bike race is neither necessary nor appropriate in the park. Superintendent Anzelmo made the right call.”

What has changed?

Along with the clear concerns that the race on its face is not appropriate for the national monument, there are also worries that if the Park Service approved the race, other units of the park system could find themselves fielding similar proposals.

Don't think so? In the past the monument has been the backdrop for non-competitive "citizen rides," such as the Denver Post's Ride the Rockies event. After one such event some years ago, Shenandoah National Park officials were asked to open Skyline Drive to a professional bike race.

"Some organizers and promoters wanted to use part of the Skyline Drive for the 'Tour d' Trump' - a race loosely modeled after the Tour d' France," recalls Bill Wade, who at the time was Shenandoah's superintendent. "We said it would be against NPS policy and cited the provision. The promoters cited the Colorado Monument bicycle use along with the 'Rim Run' in Crater Lake (National Park) as being 'events' that were allowed in National Park Service areas that were also 'against policy.' Fortunately we prevailed, but I think the problem with precedents is a real one."

There also was an instance several years ago, Mr. Wade notes, when backers of a car race, including the late-Paul Newman, wanted to stage a race at Floyd Bennett Field at Gateway National Recreation Area.

"My recollection from talking with Barry Sullivan, then superintendent, was that the promoters had done their homework and also cited some 'events' going on in NPS areas that were inconsistent with policy," said Mr. Wade.

As Traveler has said in the past, 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.

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 -- something U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper raised in 2011 -- is terribly myopic and undervalues the wonders that exist there.

Park Service officials need to end the confusion by issuing a clarifying statement that professional bike races will not be allowed to take place in the national parks.


It's hard to see how a few cyclists will abuse the park roads. :)

Let's amend that last sentence just a bit to read: ". . . the public will destroy our parks if we let them abuse them."

The trick is determining where the split between use and abuse lies. That is sometimes a very fine line and is profoundly subjective. But if the Park Service errs, I hope it would be on the side of preservation.

I don't second Ranger Daves opinion. These are public parks, paid for by the American Public. The NPS is simply the caretaker for these wonderful sites. The issue with the bike race is not 'resource protection' as the race would evidently use the existing paved road and turnouts designed for travel. Use of lands outside the corridor would be minimal and could be mitigated at the races' expense.

Don't tell me parks is 'overwhelmed' by users at authorized events. The parks management has law enforcement authority just for this reason. They use it, as they should, when necessary.

Parks managers are there to manage park uses. Analysis of the varied requests from the public for use of parks is major part of their job. There is a structured process to conduct this type of analysis. Mitigation of impacts and who pays is part of the analysis. Procedures like bonding exist to assure that you don't have 200 boats show up when 100 are authorized. If the parks are overwhelmed by an authorized activity, they haven't done their job very well.

Political pressures are also part of the parks managers jobs. The public will pressure the parks for what they want. The NPS will also solicit through these same politicians for what they want, usually more money. It's the way the system works and generally, it works pretty well.

I don't personally have a dog in this hunt. I trust that the NPS will do a reasonable job in an analysis. If the event should be allowed, NPS will manage (protect) the resource so that it is there for the rest of us.

I do get tired of the attitude that the public will destroy our parks if we let them use them.

Thanks, Ranger Dave, for the reality check

I second Ranger Dave's comments and experiences.

Very well said, Ranger Dave.

Precedent is a strong concept in our country. In my 30 years of park service I have seen it come into play way too many times. You allow a Cub Scout troup who gave community service to the park to use an area for a ceremonial fire and then 15 groups of all different types are demanding, not asking for, the same privilege. Then the same demand is made at other parks pointing toward the first one as the example.

The old adage "give them an inch and they'll take a mile" also comes into play in these types of instances. A nearby park issues a permit for a bass tournament of no more than 100 boats and on the day of the event 150 participating boats show up overwhelming park resources and blocking out use by recreational boaters. When park management complains and discusses not allowing future events to the group, suddenly you get phone calls from local delegates, state senators and others to "accommodate" the group who are now emboldened and next tournament 200 boaters show up. I have experienced this.

Park management sometimes has to make the hard decisions. Insert the word please for fool in Lincoln's quotation "You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all the people all the time" and you have the world in which we live. However, while people pleasing is certainly in our decision making process, resource protection trumps people pleasing. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

The park service needs to stick to their guns and say no to this type of activity.

I hear you, Kurt. I will leave the motivations of Mrs. Bush, Obama and Beiden for visiting the Parks to others to surmise. I'm in the Teddy Roosevelt school of connecting with the Parks in very personal ways and when necessary, political when the former is but symbolism.

Great site BTW, Kurt!

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