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.